Rutherford Files Free Speech Lawsuit Against Union County Officials for Censoring Local Activist & Disrupting Local TV Program

By County Watchers | May 26, 2011

Nisha N. Whitehead
The Rutherford Institute
P.O. Box 7482
Charlottesville, VA 22906
Cell: (434) 466-6168

NEWARK, N.J.—The Rutherford Institute has filed a free speech lawsuit against Union County, New Jersey, over its efforts to censor a local TV producer who has been calling for greater transparency in government. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for New Jersey, alleges that Union County officials violated the First Amendment rights of community activist Tina Renna when they demanded that she cease displaying the Union County Seal on her public information show “Union County Citizen’s Forum” or face a trademark infringement lawsuit. Institute attorneys argue that the County’s baseless claim of trademark protection and threat of legal action constitute nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to disrupt Renna’s efforts to raise awareness about the activities of local government.

The Institute’s complaint in Renna v. County of Union, New Jersey is available here.

“This case represents a grotesque violation of our First Amendment right to free expression,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “Government officials should know better. Such censorship has no place in a free society.”

Tina Renna is a community activist who has been critical of the Union County government and has sought to bring more openness and transparency to the actions of the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders. In December 2009, Renna began producing the television show “Union County Citizen’s Forum” for airing on the Township of Cranford’s public access Channel 35. The show consists primarily of reading the resolutions and formal acts of the Board as well as other news and public information of local interest.

Displayed in the background during the show was a graphic consisting of the Union County seal with a spotlight shining on it to symbolize the show’s purpose of bringing to light the activities and workings of the County government. In September 2010, the Township of Cranford received a letter from the County’s counsel demanding that the Township “cease and desist use of the Seal of the County of Union in any way including, but not limited to, displaying it in the background of all television shows” except for recorded meetings of the County’s Board of Chosen Freeholders. The letter advised that the seal is a pending trademark, that “you are committing trademark infringement,” and demanded proof that television shows had been changed to eliminate use of the seal. Township officials advised Renna of the letter and Renna removed the spotlighted seal from the background of “Union County Citizen’s Forum.”

However, Renna also contacted The Rutherford Institute for advice about her rights, especially in relation to the County’s trademark claim. In April 2011, Institute attorneys informed Union County officials of Renna’s First Amendment right to display the seal in connection with news programming and requested that the County withdraw its claim to trademark protection in the seal. However, the County refused to disclaim its assertion of trademark protection. In response, Institute attorneys filed a First Amendment lawsuit in federal court asking the court to affirm that Renna has a right to display the seal on her television show. The lawsuit contends that the County seal is not subject to trademark protection and that the display of the seal in connection with news and public information programming is constitutionally protected expression which does not constitute trademark infringement.

17 Responses to “Rutherford Files Free Speech Lawsuit Against Union County Officials for Censoring Local Activist & Disrupting Local TV Program”

  1. Jerry Morgan says:

    As a Union County resident I would like to welcome The Rutherford Institute to the fight.
    The Criminals posing as public servants in Union County and its town ships are many, well organized, entrenched thugs. They are well funded, fat with skimmed tax payer cash. I think you will find that Union County is a Target Rich Environment for an organization like yours. Good Hunting!

  2. bpaterson says:

    The union county authorities could care less about the lawsuit. After all they have half a billion dollars of “free” money they can use to fight any lawsuit. If they lose, they then just appeal and will probably lose again. But so what. Its not their money.

    Their criminal enterprise lives on.

    Maybe they will get the case in front of the ersatz judge wertheimer, the judge who’s manipulated by senator lesniak. Then they got a chance.

  3. G. Albritton says:

    Is it surprising that the Union County Board of Freeholders would so jealously guard their supposedly exclusive right to display a depiction of an innocent female homeowner, Hannah Caldwell, being shot to death on her own property by a government agent? Such a horrible crime of murder is precisely what is graphically illustrated on the Union County seal. (See: )

    Whatever the history of that seal it is absolutely absurd to retain it, and even more absurd to defend it. Not one tax dollar should be wasted in the legal defense of the County’s ridiculous position.

    The murdered woman’s husband, Parson Caldwell, was famed for, among other things, rallying the American Colonists with cries of “No taxation without representation”. His service would be appropriate, pertinent and welcome in cause of the western municipalities of Union County today.

    And the County Seal enforcers should be sure to take notice of the blatant violation of the County’s rules by the First Presbyterian Church by its very prominent display of the County Seal on the website noted above. Unless there is a definite double standard being applied by the County regarding use of the seal, the County Counsel should take action against that congregation forthwith.

  4. Vinnie says:

    I Am A Witness …
    If I hafto testify that the Freeholders never abused me when I was videotaping the meetings, I will. …

  5. Rusty says:

    “TV producer”!?!? Hahaha!
    This case would take 20 min on the People’s Court.
    Verdict: CountySeal.JPEG and $35 for the plaintiff.
    Next case!

  6. Mary Ellen Taylor says:

    It’s a shame that Union County thinks they own what the taxpayers paid for ……….. Union County will spend our money denying our rights but they do not fight for the rights of the disabled being denied transportation in the town of Berkeley Heights

    Joe Bruno the Mayor put in an email that Berkeley Heights insurance does not cover the disabled …………
    Re: Can the FBI witness the report I get tired of being harassed by BH policeFriday, May 6, 2011 11:12 PM
    From: “Joe Bruno” View contact detailsTo: “‘'” Mrs Taylor
    I have inquired about your husbands use of the senior bus. Our insurance does not include permit us to anyone with a disability. Our drivers are only trained to drive and have no medical training and our bus is not equipped.
    I am sorry for not being aware of these restrictions when we spoke at GL. May I suggest that you inquire if Union Co. ParaTransit can assist your family.

  7. Mary Ellen Taylor says:

    Mr Bruno should be educated about disability where is Frank Guzzo and the Freeholder liason to advocate ………. I forgot they get paid to do only what they are told to …. not to represent the citizens……….

  8. Brian P. Keane says:

    Hey Mary Ellen……wutcha talkin?!?!? The topic is the County Seal!

  9. Mary Ellen Taylor says:


    Why is the county making such a big deal over the county seal …….. they could deal with more important issues ……. wutcha talkin????????????????

    Is this why the disabled never get rights because the lawsuits are about county seals…….. wutcha talking ……go figure why the crew is so obsessed with
    denying free speech and basic rights to it’s citizens.

  10. Brian P Keane says:

    Hey Mary Ellen the folowing perso Saul of Roselle Park hosts
    the website and loves to stain the 6th floor with
    his rants and disloyal statements towards the union county democratic party. Maybe if he had linked the correct website people would listen to him.

  11. bpaterson says:

    The Rutherford institute thinks its coming to an objective and fair state adn the case will be easy. Boy will they be in for surprise when they find the judges are all bought and paid for by politics, and instead of judical deliberation it is just the political bosses tell the judges how to think. They will wish they were comfortably back in their united states.

  12. G. Albritton says:

    Even if the action could have been filed in the State Superior Court in Union County rather than in the United States District Court in Newark, it probably would be promptly settled with the same full unconditional surrender by the County as the case will almost certainly be in the very near future. Otherwise the County Counsel’s office will only continue the sorry joke that it has played upon itself in this matter, and further the conclusion that it serves, incompetently, as a willing tool to further the misguided dictates of the Freeholder Board.

    Two days before the date of the April 21, 2011 of the First Deputy County Counsel to The Rutherford Institute, in which he claims that the Union County Seal is “trademarked under Federal Law”, the County’s 2010 trademark application relating to the County Seal was actually abandoned by the County Counsel’s office “because the applicant failed to respond or filed a late response to an Office action.” (see also Clearly, a classic case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand ISN’T doing.

    Check out the sad history of the County Counsel’s trademark filing here: , ending with the recent mailing by the USPTO of the “Notice of Abandonment” to the County Counsel’s office on May 16.

  13. John Bury says:

    Good research but you let the county counsel’s office off too lightly.

    The 9/17/10 letter to Cranford from Robert Barry accurately termed it a ‘pending trademark’ since the application was filed on July 1, 2010.

    The 4/21/11 letter to the Rutherford Institute from Norman Albert twice termed the seal as ‘trademarked’….not pending. This was a willful lie.

    The other issue is one of timing and goes much deeper. Did the county seek to obtain a trademark for the sole purpose of harassing and causing damage to Tina Renna since the TV-35 show started shortly before the application? Why did they choose to file the application at that time? What happened that necessitated the filing then and not 50 years ago (or however long they have been using that seal)? Were there others who got that cease and desist letter? If the county is undertaking a policy of harassment against Tina Renna then what else have they done (or had done)? (1) Have they sent anonymous letters disparaging her to her advertisers and supporters seeking to inflict financial harm? (2) Have they put up websites seeking to embarrass her? (3) Have they put out a hit on her?

    have been done by some entity.

  14. G. Albritton says:

    Thanks, but this “good research” was of the most elementary kind, the sort of research that that nobody would fail to conduct when effectively claiming that something had been actually “trademarked”…..ah, well, make that almost nobody.

    The First Deputy County Counsel’s April 21 letter isn’t a tissue of lies — it is a testament to idiocy. Who could expect to get away with lie about something that was a matter of public record a few mouse clicks away? He just plain and simple missed it in the fog that that kind of arrogance generates.

    Above all else, a lawyer needs to know what he or she doesn’t know, and not mess with it. What is the County Counsel’s office doing handling a trademark registration? For all of the millions of dollars needlessly spent by the County on outside counsel, here at last was possibly a reason to go outside. And they didn’t. And they screwed it up.

    But you must be right about the motivation, and the July 1, 2010 date of the trademark application fits perfectly with the narrative that this was wholly an effort to stick it to Tina Renna. But the County’s strategy has backfired big time. Wouldn’t we all like to be a fly on the wall when they try to get someone to defend this action, and when they are attempting to draft an answer to this polished complaint? (Make them go to the judge to get an extension of time to answer!)

    Many thanks to the Rutherford Institute for taking up the sword against this County’s blustering band of fools. Too bad the Governor and his troops in Trenton can’t find the time to take a look at how this County’s leadership is undermining all that they are trying to do to set the State of New Jersey right.

  15. John Bury says:

    Finishing up, this point can’t be made too strongly. If they did target Tina Renna (and it’s transparent in this case) then what else have they done in the past that’s still hidden?

  16. Mary Ellen Taylor says:

    Great Work to all. The Harassment towards anyone who speaks out against Union County is apparent.

    After all was Joe Bruno told not to let a disabled person on a bus paid for will Federal and County funds in retaliation for the family speaking out about injustice in Union County. ……….. and the courts they do not even all the disabled Americans with Disabilty accommodations and Judge Malone and Chrystal mock Hipaa and do not recognize the rights of the disabled.

    The Surrogate let the cat out of the bag bragging that the county gets kicked back money in constested court proceedings who cares if the rights of the disabled and elderly violate the Constitution and lack due process …….. who cares if they are profitting from Fraud Upon the Court ……..

    Yes it will be interesting when the Rutherford Institute witnesses the courts ignoring the law to please their masters.

    Did George instruct Berkeley Heights to keep the harassment going …………..

    This is a classic telling Tina she can not use the seal because it is trademarked and it is not ……..

  17. Mary Ellen Taylor says:

    Corrections the courts do not even allow the disabled

    and who cares if the rights of the dsabled are violated by ignoring the Federal Constitution and State Constitution for Due process ……… who cares if Malone runs and runs court proceedings to drain assets ……. after all the Surrogate stated the contested cases kick back fees to the county ……… so the county acknowledges they know what is happening LaCorte stated in the budget tapes Middlesex County had a steady annuity from the Johnson & Johnson case ……. is this why La Corte looks the other way while Fraud Upon the Court is committed the Freeholders look the other way ………. so it is their problem ……. where is the prosecutor.