A man who changed his name to Andy Griffith and ran for sheriff did not harm the actor who played Mayberry’s folksy sheriff on the “Andy Griffith Show,” a federal judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge John Shabaz on Friday dismissed the lawsuit brought by Andy Samuel Griffith, who played Sheriff Andy Taylor on the popular 1960s TV series.
The suit claimed William Harold Fenrick violated trademark and copyright laws and the actor’s privacy after he changed his name last year to Andrew Jackson Griffith. The suit was filed the day after the independent candidate came in a distant third in his race for Grant County sheriff in southwestern Wisconsin.
During the campaign, Griffith played up his name by comparing himself to the television character who dispensed heartfelt wisdom. Denouncing law enforcement practices such as speed traps, he declared: “They never did unethical stuff like that in Mayberry!”
Shabaz said the candidate did not violate federal trademark law because he did not use the name in a commercial transaction but instead “to seek elective office, fundamental First Amendment protected speech.”
The public did not believe the actor himself was running or sponsoring the candidacy, he added.
Griffith, 80, is also well know for playing the quirky title character on “Matlock” in the 1980s. Retired and living in North Carolina, he owns Mayberry Enterprises, which controls the intellectual property rights to his name and characters.
Shabaz said he doubted the actor had suffered any damage to his reputation or income loss from the ordeal.
“Plaintiff’s campaign attempted to take advantage of a connection to Sheriff Taylor’s honesty and ethical behavior — hardly connections which would suggest damage to plaintiff’s reputation,” he wrote.
Madison lawyer Jeff Scott Olson, who represents the candidate, said his client is relieved by the ruling since he has few resources to defend himself.
Fenrick/Griffith, who turns 43 this month, won about 7.5 percent of the vote, finishing far behind.