Maryland teachers union seeks to block Hogan from using apple logo

The teachers unions of Maryland and Montgomery County want a judge to block Gov. Larry Hogan from using an apple logo on his campaign materials to suggest support from teachers in the state.

They plan to file a lawsuit Friday morning in Montgomery County. A draft of the suit that the unions released Thursday to media outlets outlines their request for a restraining order against the Republican governor that would stop him from using logos similar to the unions’ “apple ballot” image.

The unions “have a legal obligation to vigorously defend this trademark against infringement no matter the candidate or political party,” Maryland State Education Association spokesman Adam Mendelson said in a statement Thursday evening. “Unfortunately, Governor Hogan’s campaign has not been amenable to quickly resolving this matter and we have notified them we intend to file a lawsuit tomorrow morning to protect our trademark.”

Scott Sloofman, a spokesman for the Hogan campaign, said the lawsuit lacked merit.

“This is a completely frivolous lawsuit, solely calculated to trample on the First Amendment rights of our campaign and teachers across the state,” Sloofman said. “The fact is thousands of teachers throughout Maryland support Governor Hogan because they know he’s always fought for them, and they will not be silenced by MSEA’s attempt to intimidate them.”

The suit is the latest development in a week of clashes between the teachers union and the Hogan campaign.

For years, candidates supported by the nearly 80,000-member Maryland State Education Association have proudly displayed the red apple logo on their campaign materials to burnish their education bona fides with voters.

So, when representatives of the union — which has endorsed Hogan’s opponent, Democrat Ben Jealous — noticed Hogan was using a red apple logo and touting support from teachers in his campaign materials, they objected.

In response, the Hogan campaign posted large images on Facebook and Twitter of a red apple that said, “Teachers for Hogan.” And, Hogan campaign staffers delivered a basket of apples Wednesday to the union’s headquarters in Annapolis — recording the delivery and posting it online.

“A representative of the MSEA called our campaign and threatened to sue both our campaign and me personally for, get this, using an apple on our bumper sticker,” Hogan wrote on Facebook. “They said only their union has the right to use an apple.”

Sloofman also released a pun-filled statement mocking the union’s objections: “It’s ridiculous that the MSEA is going bananas over an apple. They are being unraisinable,” he wrote in an email.

It’s not the first time the unions have taken to court a candidate over use of an apple logo. In 2014, the Montgomery County Education Association reached a settlement with Democratic Attorney General Doug Gansler’s campaign for governor over the use of literature that resembled the organization’s apple-shaped ballot. The union had endorsed then-Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown. Gansler’s campaign acknowledged the union’s logo was a registered trademark, although he maintained his campaign did nothing wrong.

Hogan’s campaign attorney, Chris Ashby, wrote to the union Wednesday, saying it cannot have “a monopoly on public expression and political endorsement by teachers.”

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