Trooper-Highway Patrol legal battle takes a new turn
An ongoing legal battle between the associations that represent New Hampshire state troopers and the state highway patrol officers has taken another twist — this time with yet another claim filed in Rockingham County Superior Court. The original suit, filed on Sept. 22 by Manchester attorney Thomas Donovan on behalf of the New Hampshire Troopers Association charged the New Hampshire Highway Patrol Association with trade name, trademark and cyberpiracy, among other allegations, stemming from the use of a Web site domain name that the troopers consider nearly identical to the one they use. The troopers association — whose Web site is nhtroopers.org — charged that the highway patrol association’s Web names nhtrooper.org, nhtrooper.net, nhtrooper.com, nhtroopers.net and nhtroopers.com confused the public and “caused and will continue to cause imminent and irreparable damage” to the reputation and fund-raising ability of the troopers association. The suit eventually resulted in the removal of those domain names by the highway patrol association, but on Dec. 12 William Aivalikles, an attorney for the highway patrol group, filed a counterclaim against the troopers association. The newest court document charges the NHTA and the six individuals with making defamatory and libelous statements to and about Highway Patrol Officers over the Internet and in personal confrontations, as well as engaging in “a conduct of harassment, libel and slander which not only demeans another State Law Enforcement Agency, but impacts the quality of services rendered to the New Hampshire public.” In its claim, the highway patrol officers claim state troopers prevented highway patrol officers from doing their jobs, prevented them from using state facilities at different tollbooths and verbally and physically demeaned them. It also charges that ongoing animosity and harassment by members of the troopers association stemmed from the level of funding received by the State Police and the state Highway Patrol — two separate law enforcement branches under the auspices of the state Department of Safety — as well as resentment that troopers are forced to share jurisdiction and private duty details with members of the Highway Patrol. With the new claim, the highway officers association is seeking “liberal compensatory damages for the mental distress, insult, degradation and injured feelings and pride.” Aivalikles would not comment on the counterclaim, but Tom Donovan, attorney for the New Hampshire Troopers Association — who’s also named as a defendant in the suit — said the patrol officers’ action is different from his client’s. The troopers association, he said, “brought very focused claims based upon the improper registration and use of Web sites with domain names very similar to that of nhtroopers.org. These new counterclaims run far afield from the focus of the lawsuit.” Escalating dispute Signed on Oct. 10 - one day before the parties were to meet in court for a preliminary hearing - the temporary injunction ordered the removal by the Highway Patrol Officers Association of the Web sites in question. Under the injunction, the patrol officers retained the rights to operate the New Hampshire Highway Patrol Web site, nhhighwaypatrol.com, had to remove specified sentences “which contain references to ‘The State Trooper,’ ‘This Trooper Site’ and ‘Official Directory of State Patrol & State Police.’” As part of the injunction, the patrol association also agreed to “remove and/or refrain from criticism” of the New Hampshire State Troopers Association, its officers and active or retired members. Admission by the New Hampshire Highway Patrol Officers Association of domain name ownership or any wrongdoing is not part of this temporary injunction. Both parties are currently in the process of conducting discovery and awaiting the court’s request for a new trial schedule, according to Donovan, a Manchester attorney and counsel for the troopers group. “We have exchanged documents and written interrogatories,” Donovan said. The troopers originally voiced their concern about the Web names in March after the discovery of the existence of the site whose address differed from the one they used with the absence of a single “s.” According to court documents, visitors to the New Hampshire Patrol Officers Association website (nhtrooper.org) were originally being redirected to the Web site for the New Hampshire Highway Patrol which, at one time, included derogatory statements referring to Louis Copponi, president of the New Hampshire Troopers Association. Also, according to court records, the troopers association alleges that, while the Web site was disabled following complaints by the NHTA, it was replaced with a link to a Web site offering “NO Whining” magnets for sale. According to Donovan, the dispute between the two parties escalated once again about the time the injunction was filed and Web browsers began being redirected to a news story reporting the guilty plea of a former state trooper to child pornography charges and the addition of another former state trooper to Florida’s list of sex offenders. Scott Bowen, the New Hampshire Highway Patrol Association’s webmaster, originally claimed no ownership of the Web site domain names in question, but he has since recanted, according to Donovan. Documents obtained via subpoena from the Arizona-based company Domains By Proxy, which enables Web sites to be established anonymously, verified the fact that Bowen did indeed establish the Web site domain names in question. Bowen, a current member of the New Hampshire Highway Patrol, declined to comment at this time on advice of the highway patrol association’s attorney, William Aivalikles.