Spitzer Says Court Ruling Will Preserve Martha Graham Dance Legacy

Attorney General Spitzer today hailed a unanimous federal appeals court ruling upholding the rights of two charities, the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance and the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance to continue to operate according to the wishes of the legendary dancer.

"Every New Yorker has a stake in seeing these two great cultural institutions continue to flourish," said Spitzer, whose office intervened in the case to protect the New York-based organizations. "As a result of this ruling, Martha Graham's legacy in dance will be rightfully be preserved as a public trust."

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a summary order yesterday, upholding the August 9, 2001 decision by Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum, of the Southern District of New York in this trademark case. The case had begun when Ms. Graham's heir, Ronald Protas, who had served as a director of the two charities for many years, suddenly sued to enjoin the dance school and performance company from doing business under the names Graham gave them decades earlier. Protas registered the trademarks - "Martha Graham" and "Martha Graham Technique" - in his own name, and took other steps to profit from the legacy. Judge Cedarbaum denied Protas' request to enjoin the use of the Graham name.

The appellate ruling upheld Judge Cedarbaum's conclusions, which relied in part upon the judge's finding that Protas had violated state charities law by acting in ways contrary to the interests of the non-profit corporations he was obligated to serve. The appeals court also upheld the earlier ruling that Graham had fully intended that the charities would survive beyond her death, teaching her technique and presenting her dances.

"Ms. Graham obtained crucial public support for her creative enterprise by forming corporations that could take advantage of tax exempt, tax-deductible treatment," Spitzer said. "It is important that the public also receive the benefit of this bargain, so that her great achievements can be perpetuated by the charities she founded."

In April 2002, while the appellate ruling on the trademark issues was pending, Judge Cedarbaum also conducted a trial of related copyright issues and reserved judgment on the ownership and performance rights for the dances created by Martha Graham. The parties are due back in court in that matter on July 24th.

The case was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Marla G. Simpson and Barbara L. Quint of the Charities Bureau, with assistance from Deputy Solicitor General Michael Belohlavek.