• February 12, 2010

Previously covered here (including Roederer Trial Brief), the bell for Round #1 has rung in this intoxicating clash between top-of-the-line Cristal Champagne and bargain-basket Cristalino cava sparkling wine in a trademark fight filed in January, 2006 — a bench trial before U.S. District Court Judge Joan N. Ericksen that started earlier this week.

“Motions in limine,” which literally means, “motions on the threshold,” can be critical to trial strategy and outcome.   (Or they can be monumentally wasteful tactical gamesmanship in which lawyers overplay their hands and/or seem to be trying to jack up the costs of trial, not only failing to advance their case but actually hurting their case by diminishing their advocacy in the eyes of the court when the lawyer’s position before the court is at its most critical point, on the threshold of trial.  But this is a digression and it does not appear to have happened in this case.)  After the break, how the “MILs” shook out in the Cristal(ino) Court.

Notably, it appears that only Plaintiff Roederer brought a motion in limine in this case.  (There is something a little counter-intuitive about motions in limine for a bench trial because one is trying to exclude evidence from the person who is hearing about the evidence sought to be excluded.  This is, of course, not as silly as it first sounds because (1) exclusion of the evidence can mean exclusion of a witness and can save a great deal of trial time and money, and (2) this can trim down the trial record in the event of any later appeal.)

Judge Ericksen’s ruling, in its entirety, is here but below is a quick summary of the 15-page ruling.

Plaintiff successfully knocked out some affirmative defenses for which there was, in truth, nothing to say at trial in light of the Eighth Circuit’s previous ruling on the subject.

Plaintiff Roederer attacked and tried to knock out defendant’s trademark expert.  Roederer landed a glancing blow, but no knockout, getting some testimony excluded from the expert but not thrown out of the ring.

Roederer sought exclusion of certain trial exhibits related to third-party trademark registrations and good, an effort that was rejected but reserved for possible ruling during trial.

But where Roederer appears to have landed some heavy blows and drawn blood had to do with a motion to exclude fact witnesses.  Federal Court disclosure rules, coming at the start of a case (and continuing throughout via a duty to supplement the initial disclosures), have teeth (to mix up the pugilistic metaphor) and Defendant Cristalino had two knocked out.

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