The Other Side Of ‘Person vs. Persona’: Attorney Stephen P. New Makes The Case For Jim Cornette
(Author’s Note: Before you read the following, I want it to be clear that I have been in contact with both the prosecuting and the defending parties involved in this case and have offered each a platform to speak their minds on the matter and will continue to do so. I first covered this topic after reaching out to Jim Cornette when the “Clownette” tee was introduced on The Indy Connection website and then later reached out G-Raver on social media after he tagged me on Twitter. It was then two weeks ago when Mr. Petrunya contacted me regarding the developments in the ongoing legal case between the two parties and the following is a follow-up with Cornette’s attorney, Stephen P. New.)
It takes two to tango in the one true sport of pro wrestling and the same goes for the courtroom. In an exclusive last week, I spoke with Max Petrunya who is the defense attorney for G-Raver & The Indy Connection against Jim Cornette. Cornette filed a lawsuit regarding the use of his name and likeness on a tee shirt released by the former party. Petrunya, who also happens wrestle under the alias of “The Gavel” David Lawless, gave his defendants’ side of the story on the matter after the party filed a “motion to dismiss” and now this past week Cornette’s attorney Stephen P. New spoke with me in another WrestleZone exclusive. New, an accredited attorney in the state of West Virginia, is not only well-versed in litigation but has an extremely deep passion for wrestling, football and a military background to boot.
“I grew up in southern West Virginia, joined the Army six days after my 17th birthday to pay to put myself through college, attended Marshall University for undergraduate school, WVU College of Law where I graduated Order of The Barristers, which has to do with trial and appellate advocacy excellence. I served 20 years in the West Virginia Army National Guard from the age of 17 to the age of 37 and retired as a major in armor tanks.”
“I have driven tanks, I have shot tanks, I have loaded tanks and I have commanded my own tank as well as commanding a tank platoon of four tanks and I commanded a tank company of 14 tanks and I retired as the deputy commander of the Camp Dawson Training Center in Kingwood, WV, the rank of major.”
New practiced law at the beginning of 1999 and founded his own firm in 2004. He has dealt with high-profile cases rang. He just recently partnered with Amanda Taylor to build upon the firm as they continue to work on some high-profile cases ranging from medical malpractice to employment discrimination and is a co-owner of an NFL agency, New Legacy Sports.
New doesn’t only represent Jim Cornette, but he is representing Kevin Sullivan in a similar t-shirt case akin to Cornette’s lawsuit. He also represents other talents in the squared circle, but New doesn’t position himself as a wrestling personality whatsoever.
“I don’t hold myself out as any type of talent, either in the ring or out of the ring in the professional wrestling industry. I’m just a 40-year fan of the sport.”
New first met Cornette at Greg Price’s first NWA Legends Fan Fest in 2004 in Charlotte, NC and would see him on the reunion circuit. He then became a sponsor on Cornette’s podcast and their relationship of client and attorney began budding from that.
“In my estimation, he is a living professional wrestling legend and regardless of whether someone always agrees with his verbiage or his take on some aspects of modern professional wrestling, I don’t think Jim Cornette’s bonafideness can be questioned. That’s the reason why shows like Dark Side Of The Ring, for instance, come to interview Jim Cornette as a wrestling historian and in particular a person with firsthand knowledge of the 80s and 90s and even the early 2000s wrestling with OVW and ROH.”
New gave his thoughts on Petrunya’s motion to dismiss, stating its content was a little unbalanced as far as the legal side of the coin is concerned.
“I thought the motion to dismiss was thick on wrestling history, going back to its days as a carnival sport, but thin on legal analysis where someone takes the likeness of another person and then tries to profit off of that.”
New filed an amendment to the complaint on March 4 which now, in addition, addresses the “Clownette” t-shirt, a design that is akin to the original “Fuck Jim Cornette” shirt, but doesn’t have Cornette’s name or the violent imagery that displays the nature of deathmatches. Instead, it’s a likeness of Cornette that is covered in clown make-up. New states that Cornette owns the rights to the original design and part of the Clownette design (verified by a designer, New states) is exactly the same as the “Fuck Jim Cornette” tee.
New also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order to stop the sale of the Clownette tee, which as of this writing, is no longer available for sale on the Clownette website.
A big matter of defense for Petruyna is that there is a distinction between Jim Cornette the person and Jim Cornette the wrestling personality. New argues that there is no difference for those who are familiar with Cornette as an individual and wrestling personality.
“I think Jim Cornette has different gears, alright? He’s kind of like most of us – to make an automobile analogy – some people run in first gear, but others of us run in fifth gear, Jimmy may be an eight speed.” New references footnote one of the amended complaint, which states:
‘Plaintiff Cornette is so good at his job, that in prior litigation involving plaintiff, witnesses do not know where the character begins and the ‘real person’ ends. Plaintiff avers that there is no distinction and has not been for over 30 years. See, e.g., Massey v. Jim Crockett Promotions, 400 S.E.2d 876 (W. Va. 1990) fn’
“We take the contention that this is Jim’s real name and who Jim Cornette is, is who Jim Cornette is,” continues New. “There is no character, this is not Mark Calaway, and The Undertaker. It’s not a persona. This is who Jim Cornette is.”
There was an affidavit filed with Petruyna’s motion that contends Cornette stated to talents backstage at a Wheeling, WV event in 2018 that he may be critical of talent during an American Idol-esque judging process, but that was just the character he’s portraying. New gave a response to that matter as well:
“I guarantee you that given the history of the families and everything like that, that Jim Cornette was probably at a Jerry Jarrett event acting more respectful than he might at Jim Cornette OVW event,” New contends.
New cites the recent Booker T vs. Activision case to substantiate his argument, in which a character in the Call Of Duty: Black Ops game has a character strongly resembling the two-time WWE Hall Of Famer and one of his previous gimmicks, G.I. Bro.
I asked New about the matter of G-Raver’s tee diluting the Jim Cornette brand, and New makes note that many tee shirt companies not even associated with Cornette or The Indy Connection have gone on to make duplicates of the shirt, profiting off a design that Cornette owns and further muddying the distinction of what is a Jim Cornette property.
“He’s actually having to spend money, hire me, do things to protect his brand. At one point we looked after the ‘Clownette’ shirt was done, there were 35 websites selling some variation of the ‘FJC’ shirt to include multiple sellers on eBay and Amazon and over 35 different websites including Amazon and eBay that were selling ‘Clownette.’
New states this has since evolved into sites actually taking other own properties off of the Jim Cornette website.
“And because of Graver’s and Molnar’s actions, other t-shirt sellers have been so emboldened by that, that they are now selling some of Cornette’s t-shirt designs from CornettesCollectibles.com on these (lack of a better term) ‘outlaw mud show’ t-shirt sites. So Cornette’s having to go through an immense amount of time expense energy protecting his brand that seems to have begun with Molnar, Graver and this whole ‘FJC’ shirt but I mean eventually we’re going to ask the judge to compensate us for that.”
There is also the matter of likeness of confusion, and Petrunya argues in the motion that no one in their right mind would think Cornette would support such imagery or phrasing on a t-shirt that satirizes him. Something that New’s lawsuit points out is Cornette’s liberal use of the “F-Word” which almost goes hand in hand with his brand and The Indy Connection’s attempt to trademark the “FJC” phrase can certainly cause confusion.
“Jim’s catchphrase as you pointed out is ‘Thank You, Fuck You, Bye.’ He’s got that all over t-shirts and everything like that and it’s not just us saying this, USPTO actually agreed with us to try to obtain a trademark on that would cause confusion. That was one of the four grounds under which the USPTO rejected The Indy Connection’s application for that.”
(Transcription credit should go to @DominicDeAngelo of WrestleZone)
You can listen to the entire conversation with Mr. New below.
Also included is the Mr. Petruyna interview and article to get both sides of the case.