Personal injury lawyer and ubiquitous TV pitchman George Sink wants his namesake son to stop using his birth-given moniker to market a fledgling law firm, saying two attorneys with identical names are confusing potential clients.
Lawyers for the elder Sink's corporation — George Sink P.A. Injury Lawyers — were in federal court in Charleston on Monday seeking a temporary injunction prohibiting George Sink Jr. from using his own name for his law firm and on a website that advertises his business.
Kathryn Cole, a lawyer representing the elder Sink's firm, said the son is violating trademark protections.
Timothy St. Clair, a lawyer representing the younger Sink, said there's no evidence consumers are confused and his client's dad does not have a monopoly on the family name.
U.S District Court Judge David Norton heard arguments from both sides and will issue a ruling at a later date.
The family feud started in February, when Sink Sr. — whose "all-nines" catchphrase is heard across on thousands of daily television and radio commercials — fired his son from the 23-year-old North Charleston law firm. Four days later, Sink Jr. started his own practice — George Sink II Law Firm — across town under the name he says he's always used professionally.
"On paper, what looked like a great idea — father and son working together — did not work out in practice," said Ronald Richter, a lawyer who represents Sink Jr.
George Sink is taking his son to court for starting a law firm with their shared name, alleging that his son's new business constitutes unfair competition and trademark infringement.
An agreement between the father and son calls for any business dispute to be settled in arbitration, which is tentatively scheduled for December, and limits damages to $500 — an amount Sink Jr. already has paid to his father.
Sink Sr. said in court documents the agreement should be set aside because he signed it without reading it, something Norton called "probably his weakest argument."
"If you sign it, you own it," Norton said.
The temporary injunction, if granted, would last until an arbitrator decides the case.
Cole said Sink Jr. is taking advantage of the millions of dollars his dad spends each year to market his practice. She said the younger Sink intentionally embedded meta tags in his website so Google searches for "George Sink" would direct people to him instead of his father.
"The goodwill and reputation (Sink Sr.) built up over 23 years has been taken out of our control," she said.
Allan Holmes, another lawyer representing Sink Sr., said the younger Sink typically went by his middle name, Ted, but is now calling himself George to capitalize on his father's reputation.
Richter, however, said the South Carolina Bar and others refer to his client as George, and the elder Sink even introduced his son as George in a television commercial during their more affable times as co-workers.
"We ask, please don't call him Ted," Richter said.
He added the younger Sink is in the "very early stages of establishing himself as a lawyer" and shutting down his website would hurt his career.
Cole said there's no objection to Sink Jr. starting a law practice or website as long as it's not marketed as George Sink's law firm.
Norton did not give a timeline for a decision on the injunction.
Sink Jr., a graduate of Yale and the Charleston School of Law, was working as a marketing executive in New York when his father urged him in 2013 to join his law firm as a marketing employee. The younger Sink later got a law degree and started handling client matters at his father's firm last year.
The elder Sink's law firm has 13 offices in South Carolina and Georgia and advertises heavily on TV and radio to attract clients.