This House Protected by Lawyers

Life hasn't been the same for J. Stewart Jackson IV since 1996, when he sold Denver Burglar Alarm, the business his family had run since 1917 ("Who Stole Denver Burglar Alarm?" September 17, 1998).

An effort to start a new company last summer--Jackson Burglar Alarm--has resulted in a lawsuit filed by Ameritech, which bought Denver Burglar Alarm from the company Jackson sold it to. The suit follows a complaint by Ameritech that Jackson's new logo was too much like his old one. The DBA logo, a squat, dark-red shield with yellow trim, has been around since 1952, and when Ameritech bought the company in 1997, it received the rights to the logo as well. Jackson's JBA shield was a close knockoff: Both were the same size, with virtually the same colors, and featured the same layout. Both logos even state the founding of their companies: "Established--1892."

Jackson says that Ameritech's trademark on the DBA logo had expired before he unveiled the near-duplicate JBA logo. But when Ameritech ordered Jackson to change his logo, he complied and issued a modified shield design that was more elongated and featured different type and a different layout. That design remains as the company's logo.

Despite the changes, last November Ameritech filed a lawsuit against JBA in U.S. District Court. In its complaint, Ameritech argued that the new design remained "confusingly similar" to the original. The suit also alleges defamation and interference with contractual relations.

Jackson's attorneys filed a counterclaim alleging that Ameritech's suit was designed solely to impede competition with JBA. "He started a new company that may prove to be a substantial competitor," says Mark Macy, Jackson's attorney. Jackson, however, believes the suit is more about the defamation charge, which stems from a series of ads JBA has run in a daily newspaper since last June. Many of the ads accuse SecurityLink, Ameritech's security division, of bad service. If the ads went away, the suit would as well, Jackson says. "My lawyers say that means [SecurityLink] wants me to quit advertising. That's the bottom line."

One of Jackson's regular ads claims that a "major retailer" experienced an armed holdup and SecurityLink failed to call the police; and when a "major shopping center" experienced a serious water-flow problem from a fire-alarm sprinkler system, SecurityLink did not call the fire department. Another ad accuses SecurityLink's service of deteriorating "past the point of being absolutely unacceptable" and that more than 1,000 disgruntled customers had called Jackson to complain.

In its suit, attorneys representing Ameritech claimed that these ads were "false and defamatory and...part of a campaign by the defendant to harm plaintiff's reputation."

The two companies are also squabbling over whether JBA is illegally stealing customers from Ameritech. Jackson estimates that about 450 customers have switched from SecurityLink to JBA. SecurityLink believes that at least thirty of those were switched illegally and estimates the value of the resulting lost accounts at $25,000. One JBA employee actually did provide six or seven SecurityLink customers with form letters that terminated their contracts with SecurityLink at the customers' requests.

"Once we found out, we stepped on her head," Jackson says of the employee in question. "She's not here anymore." Other than that, Jackson says, unhappy SecurityLink customers have contacted JBA first, not the other way around. "Our position is, customers of SecurityLink have made the decision to leave the company because they were unhappy with the service," Macy adds. "It's up to customers to make a decision whether they're dissatisfied."

JBA has also fired back its own charge of interference against DBA. In Jackson's affidavit, he claims that Ameritech employees have been harassing JBA customers, threatening to come by and rip out their security systems. He also says that Ameritech has threatened current JBA customers who have contract disputes with SecurityLink to pay up or be sued. "It's harassment," Jackson says. "From a public-relations point of view, it's a disaster to treat people that way."

No trial date has been set.
--T.R. Witcher

Squashing a Black Widow
Ever since she'd been arrested and charged with paying a fellow barfly $10,000 to kill her ex-husband in the tiny plains town of Haswell, Colorado, Cynthia Phillips's friends and family had proclaimed her innocence ("Love on the Rocks," October 22, 1998). A jury didn't buy her story, however, and two weeks ago she was sentenced to 24 years in prison, the maximum penalty possible for solicitation to commit murder.

Phillips, a loud-dressing blonde, was a colorful arrival to tiny Haswell, a speed-bump of a town midway between Eads and Ordway. Soon after moving there with her husband and buying a meat-processing business in 1994, she began frequenting Opal's Pub in Lamar. It was there that she met a man named Toby Mathews, who would become her lover; she also made friends with a bouncer named Billy Michael "Bear" Slaughter. In June 1995 she paid Slaughter $10,000 to kill her husband.

Slaughter took the money and ran, though, and Ron Phillips was never harmed. Ron and Cynthia later divorced. In fact, the whole episode might have passed unnoticed if it hadn't been for Mathews's murder in Corsicana, Texas, three years later; he was gunned down outside his car on April 14, 1998. When word of the shooting reached Opal's Pub, friends of his went to the police with the Haswell murder-for-hire story. Tracked down in Indiana, Bear Slaughter agreed to testify that Phillips had paid him to kill her husband.

Meanwhile, Richard Boyd is scheduled to go on trial on July 12 for the murder of Mathews. Boyd, a former roommate of Mathews's who'd recently begun an affair with Phillips, confessed to the crime soon after being picked up by police--but he also claimed that he'd had an accomplice. Phillips, he said, who'd moved to Corsicana with Mathews, fired the first shots that killed her boyfriend. Unfortunately, says Navarro County District Attorney Patrick Bachelor, under Texas law, the sworn statement of a co-conspirator cannot be used as evidence in court. Consequently, Phillips has not been indicted in Mathews's murder.

"And we know she did it," says Bachelor. "There's no question about it. She failed a polygraph." Still, he says, cops have scoured the murder scene and come up with no objective evidence linking Phillips to the crime. "I don't see any way the greatest cops in the world could come up with enough evidence to convict her," he says.

That's also the dilemma for police in Edwards County, Kansas, where Cynthia Phillips grew up--and where, on September 13, 1996, the decomposing body of her first husband, Leslie Konrade, was discovered. Bruce Mellor, an investigator for the Kansas State Police assigned to the case, says the investigation into Konrade's death--in which Phillips is a prime suspect--is "open and ongoing."

The deaths of Phillips's boyfriend and former husband--and the botched killing of another husband--took place hundreds of miles apart, and each had a different fact pattern. But they all shared at least one thing in common: Cynthia Phillips was the beneficiary of an insurance policy on each man.

--Eric Dexheimer