Ric Francis / AP
The Los Angeles-based Mongolian biker club will not be stripped of its logo, as a federal judge essentially overturned the jury's decision to deprive the group of its collective symbol.
US District Judge David O. Carter, in Santa Ana, said Thursday that the jury's decision violated club members' rights to freedom of association and expression and the protection offered by the club. 8th Amendment against excessive sanctions.
"There is no doubt that the government has a legitimate interest in attacking the economic roots of a criminal organization such as the Mongolian nation," said Carter in a 51-page ruling. But he said that forcing the club to give up its rights associated with the symbol used by the group since 1969 "is unjustified and extremely disproportionate".
In January, a jury, in an unprecedented verdict, agreed with federal prosecutors to strip the Mongolian logo – an image of a character resembling Genghis Khan and wearing sunglasses and a ponytail on a helicopter, below the name club. Prosecutors argued that the Mongols were a gang of criminals and that their logo was at the heart of their outlaw identity that they "wore like armor".
A month earlier, the same jury had sentenced the group of Mongol rulers, the Mongol Nation, for racketeering and conspiracy charges related to drug trafficking and violent crimes perpetrated by members.
Club leaders say that their group is not a criminal operation and that all the crimes committed were the work of dishonest members who had been expelled from the organization.
The motorcycle club's lawyers said the jury's decision was a case of excessive government outreach.
"It is an attempt at collective guilt, which has never been legalized here in this country," said Mongolian lawyer Joe Yanny, quoted by the Associated Press. "We do not hold people guilty and we do not punish them simply because they know people who might be related in one way or another to people who allegedly committed something wrong."
A spokesman for the US prosecutor's office said in a statement that prosecutors were disappointed with the ruling and were "definitely considering an appeal".
Carter's decision is "flawless," said Marsha Gentner, a lawyer specializing in intellectual property in Washington, D.C.
"The judge recognizes that even though intangible property may be subject to seizure or confiscation, a trademark, in particular a collective trademark, is a unique type of good, related to both the actual use and the goodwill that it symbolizes. In this particular case, corresponds to the compensation requested by the government, "said Gentner in an email to NPR .
Prosecutors have been trying to take control of the Mongolian logo since 2008.
In the same year, nearly 80 members were sentenced for a series of drug and aggression crimes.
The Mongols, founded in 1969 by a group of Latino men, have a long and sometimes violent rivalry with other biker clubs, such as Hell's Angels.