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NAME: Julie Alexa Strauss TITLE: Vice President and Corporate Counsel AGE: 41 THE BIG TOP: Based in Vienna, Va., Feld Entertainment Inc. produces the 130-year-old Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus and other live family entertainment, performing annually in 120 cities before 25 million people. The privately held company does not disclose its finances, but Fortune magazine reported in 1999 that it had $500 million in annual revenue. IN-CIRCUS COUNSEL: Julie Alexa Strauss has been in-house at Feld since 1988 and was promoted to vice president in 1994. As one of three lawyers working under general counsel Jerry Sowalsky, Strauss oversees the key areas of intellectual property and animal licensing and care issues, as well as general liability claims and lawsuits. She also handles all immigration matters for the scores of foreign performers at Feld’s circuses and ice skating shows, while sharing duties on contracts, employment, litigation and corporate issues. TAMING ACTIVISTS: Elephants, big cats, horses and other trained animals have been part of the “Greatest Show on Earth” since the days of John Ringling and P.T. Barnum. Government inspectors and animal rights activists are relative newcomers to the circus, but they command a lion’s share of Strauss’ attention. She obtains the permits needed to move Ringling’s 250 animals (in two complete circuses) across state lines and international boundaries. The circus is “very, very heavily regulated” in the area of animal care, says Strauss, and subject to frequent, unannounced inspections by officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Fish and Wildlife Service and state and local agencies. Strauss works closely with Ringling’s animal care staff to keep them current on applicable regulations. These efforts don’t satisfy some animal rights advocates, though, who claim that inspections show that Ringling neglects and mistreats its performing animals. In July 2000, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and other animal rights groups sued Ringling in federal court in Washington, D.C., alleging that the circus violates the Endangered Species Act by routinely beating and chaining protected Asian elephants, and forcibly removes nursing baby elephants from their mothers. Strauss maintains that the plaintiffs’ claims of elephant mistreatment are unsubstantiated and contradicted by dozens of inspection reports. On June 29, federal Judge Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed the ASPCA’s complaint for lack of standing. Last June, the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) filed a similar federal suit against Feld and Ringling Brothers in Sacramento, Calif. PAWS also alleged that the defendants conspired to put the animal rights group out of business through fraud and corporate espionage, including the planting of undercover operatives posing as volunteers at the PAWS animal sanctuary in Galt, Calif. Feld issued a press statement at the time, saying that it was “outraged” at the allegations in PAWS’ complaint, which it condemned as a nuisance lawsuit furthering a “political campaign to eliminate animals from performing circuses.” Proving that negotiations can bring almost anyone together, PAWS and Feld issued a joint statement in February announcing an amicable settlement of the litigation. In return for dismissal of the complaint, Ringling agreed to donate “a number” of retired circus elephants to the PAWS sanctuary, and to fund the animals’ care with an unspecified financial contribution. Strauss, who was involved in the negotiations with PAWS, declines to discuss the settlement. NO CLOWNING AROUND: Most of Feld’s litigation involves allegations of injuries to humans, not pachyderms. According to Strauss, general liability claims against Feld involve slip-and-falls, crowd-control issues and even the occasional complaint from customers selected to participate in stunts on the floor. “You name it, we have it in the Greatest Show on Earth,” she says. Given the millions who attend Feld performances annually, Strauss says, the company is actually involved in very few personal injury cases, with only “about a dozen” lawsuits now pending. For this, she credits Feld’s commitment to safety, its rigorous risk-management program, and its no-nonsense approach to litigation. “If something is our fault, we’ll step up to the plate, and to the extent that the damage [claim] isn’t out of hand, we will resolve the case,” she says. “If it’s not our negligence, though, I’ll pay outside counsel to defend a case rather than just being viewed as a deep pocket.” THE GREATEST TRADEMARK ON EARTH: Strauss, a former intellectual property lawyer, handles most of Feld’s IP work. She aggressively defends Ringling’s trademarked moniker “The Greatest Show on Earth,” which she considers one of Feld’s most valuable corporate assets. Trademark violators often act when the circus is in town, she says, hoping to capitalize on advertising for the real Greatest Show on Earth. In the “overwhelming majority” of cases, a stern cease-and-desist letter ends the violation, she says. But not always. When the circus was in Norfolk, Va., in the late 1980s, a promoter saw a banner at a local car dealership proclaiming “The Greatest Used Car Show on Earth.” Following a cease-and-desist notice, Strauss says she received a scathing letter from the dealership’s lawyer, calling it “insane” to argue that anyone would confuse the local car shop with the famous circus. With the circus leaving town, Strauss dropped it. But when Ringling returned to Norfolk the next year, the banner was up again, and Strauss was soon in court. She appended the lawyer’s year-old letter as Exhibit A to a motion for injunctive relief. The judge “went crazy,” she recalls, ordering the dealership to take the sign down and its lawyer to pay Feld’s court costs. In 1999, Strauss filed a trademark violation complaint against People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals after it carried its anti-circus crusade into cyberspace. The animal rights group put up a Web site at, posting allegations of animal abuse and publicizing its protests. After the complaint, “They backed down very quickly,” says Strauss. “They didn’t have too many legs to stand on.” Strauss was not so pleased with the outcome of another trademark suit. In 1996, the circus sued the Utah travel bureau to invalidate the state’s trademark for “The Greatest Snow on Earth,” which promoted Utah’s ski industry. After a bench trial, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled against Ringling, concluding that the circus had not proven its dilution case under the Federal Trademark Dilution Act of 1995. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. PRINCIPAL OUTSIDE COUNSEL: Strauss says that the company handles a lot of its legal work in-house, and does not have a main outside counsel. She usually turns to the D.C. office of New York’s Stroock & Stroock & Lavan for IP work, and hires firms nationwide to handle other work. ROUTE TO THE BIG TOP: After graduating from Dickinson College in 1981 and Duquesne University Law School in 1984, Strauss joined Beveridge, DeGrandi & Kline, an IP boutique in Washington, D.C. In 1985, she moved to D.C.’s Bishop, Cook, Purcell & Reynolds (now part of Chicago’s Winston & Strawn), where she concentrated on trademark and labor law. In 1987, Strauss says she had a “midlife crisis at a young age,” causing her to question her future in private practice. “I woke up and said, ‘Oh, my gosh, do I really want to do this forever?’” She responded to an unidentified help wanted ad and ended up, in January 1988, at Feld. She hasn’t looked back. “My parents took me to [the] circus, but I never went as an adult,” she says. “Now I do. Every day.” FAMILY: Strauss lives in McLean, Va., with her husband, Jeff Milstein, a senior producer at CNN; and their children, David, 11, and Jenna, 7. LAST BOOK READ: “The Color of Night,” a spy thriller by David Lindsey.

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