Visitor bureau prevails in suits

April 10, 2003 12:00 am

By AMY LINDBLOM

A jubilant Nancy Sikes said all she wants to do is get back to what she was hired to do.

As director of the Tuolumne County Visitors' Bureau, her job is to promote the county as a place to visit and to make movies. But she's been tied up in legal proceedings for the last three years.

Sikes learned yesterday that a California appellate court dismissed two of three lawsuits against the Visitors' Bureau, parent organization for the Tuolumne County Film Commission. The suits were brought by Robert White of White Vines Productions, formerly called the Tuolumne County Film Consortium.

"We've known all along our positions were justified," Sikes said. "We just had to wait through this process, and we knew we were in for the long haul. But now we can devote 100 percent of the time to promoting Tuolumne County, rather than fighting Mr. White."

White and the bureau had been locked in legal battles over a trade-name dispute, a malicious prosecution allegation and a lawsuit over whether Visitors' Bureau meetings were subject to California's open meeting laws, outlined in The Brown Act.

The only suit still pending before the Fifth District Court of Appeals is over who pays some of the legal fees each party has incurred in bringing and defending the suits, said both White and Kevin Seibert, the Visitors' Bureau attorney.

The feud between White and the Visitors' Bureau began in June 2000 when the bureau sued White for alleged trade-name infringement.

White refused to stop using the Film Consortium name, and the Visitors' Bureau suit claimed "consortium" was "deceptively similar" to "commission," and would confuse potential filmmakers.

The Visitors' Bureau dropped the suit after White changed his film-promotion business to White Vines Productions. But White countersued, claiming the Film Commission was infringing on White Vines Productions' ability to do business and that the bureau's original lawsuit amounted to malicious prosecution.

White's suit named Bureau Director Sikes and 17 other defendants.