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Rival Days of '47 groups tied up in ugly court fight

Published February 19, 2012 12:35 pm

Courts • Nonprofit accuses group of hijacking rodeo and stealing supplies and sponsors.
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Utahns may be in for a wild ride this Pioneer Day while two Utah nonprofits duke it out in federal court over who has the legal right to use "Days of '47" to promote their activities and who should be able to profit from it.

In a lawsuit filed Friday in Utah's U.S. District Court, The Days of '47 Inc. is accusing another nonprofit, Days of '47 Rodeo Inc., and its director, Brad Harmon, of hijacking its event by stealing money, its assets, sponsors and contacts and stealing all the rodeo equipment it owns.

In return, Days of '47 Rodeo is allegedly trying to get the federal government to ignore a Utah state trademark and instead give it the exclusive rights to use "Days of '47 Rodeo," the lawsuit alleges.

The Days of '47 Inc. is best known for putting on Salt Lake City's Pioneer Day festivities over the past 70 years, including the parades, pageants, annual rodeo and concerts. It operates the Days of '47 Rodeo each year as a fundraiser to help cover the costs of the other activities.

The lawsuit alleges The Days of '47 has even registered trademarks for a logo for "Days of '47" as well as a logo for "Days of '47 Rodeo" with the Utah Division of Corporations.

But sometime during the past three years, The Days of '47 apparently and unknowingly lost control of its rodeo and now accuses Harmon, the man it had entrusted to run it, of using its contacts to form his own business and profit from its event, according to the lawsuit.

Multiple attempts to reach Harmon for comment were unsuccessful. He has not yet filed a response to the lawsuit.

Harmon was appointed to serve as chairman of the rodeo in about 1997 after the sudden death of his father, Floyd "Flip" Harmon, and served in that position until Feb. 3, 2012, when he was fired, the lawsuit claims. In 2002, the lawsuit alleges, Harmon set up the nonprofit Days of '47 Rodeo Inc., also known as Rodeo Inc., but when confronted about it several years later he told The Days of '47 officials that it was simply a shell corporation that wasn't doing any business, the lawsuit alleges.

The issue came to a head in 2011 after the two nonprofits got into a dispute over rightful ownership of a $15,857 sponsorship check from Wrangler, which was allegedly deposited into Rodeo Inc.'s bank account, not The Days of '47 account as it should have been, the suit claims.

The suit says Harmon, as director of Rodeo Inc., has been attempting to steal contracts, has entered into unauthorized contracts on behalf of The Days of '47, has stolen some of The Days of '47 assets and even sold rodeo merchandise without paying The Days of '47. In addition, The Days of '47 alleges its own rodeo equipment has disappeared and that Rodeo Inc. stole it or arranged for its theft.

It's demanding Harmon provide information regarding its unauthorized bank accounts, return all sponsorship funds, cease and desist all activity related to The Days of '47 and its rodeo, stop contacting sponsors and dissolve Rodeo Inc. or at least drop "Days of '47" usage, as well as stop using their current logo and give the Days of '47 control of the rodeo website.

In return, the lawsuit claims, Rodeo Inc. has failed to cooperate with its repeated demands and has even filed for a federal trademark registration for "Days of '47 Rodeo" despite the fact that the plaintiffs had a state trademark and have used the names for nearly 70 years.

Cimaron Neugebauer contributed to this report.

jstecklein@sltrib.comTwitter @sltribjanelle