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Poulsbo pageant at legal odds with big business mogul
POULSBO — Thirteen years ago, Lynanne White never imagined the self-esteem program she began out of her home would draw the wrong kind of attention from one of the country’s biggest business moguls.
So when White, who organizes the annual online Miss American Rose pageant, received an email from lawyers representing Donald Trump’s Miss Universe on Nov. 2, she let it sit in her inbox unopened for more than a day, thinking it a scam.
When she finally opened the email, she found a letter claiming trademark infringement in the use of the phrase “Miss USA,” found in some of White’s pageant titles.
The letter gave White ten days to cease and desist the use of titles Miss U.S.A. Rose, Tiny Miss U.S.A. Rose and Jr. Miss U.S.A. Rose, a deadline now past.
White, who owns American Rose Bridal in Poulsbo, has been using the titles for more than a decade. She was advised by attorneys to do as the letter said, but is now seeking a second opinion. She doesn’t want to strip her winners of their titles, but their reigns don’t end until July.
“I’ve heard from so many people who are on my side, who are telling me to fight it because he’s the big bully,” White said.
She believed using U.S.A. — not USA — in titles would keep her away from legal trouble.
“I couldn’t believe it,” White said. “I took steps so that it wouldn’t happen.”
Miss Universe has lodged successful suits against others in the past for similar infringement issues, the letter states.
The Herald contacted attorneys representing Miss Universe for comment but did not hear back by presstime.
White started the Miss American Rose program for girls ages 8-18, but soon heard from women and parents of younger children hoping for the opportunity to apply. Two years after beginning the program White opened it to all ages and added an international division.
Contestants write to White about their hobbies, favorite school subjects and volunteer work. Winners receive a tiara and a sash, as well as a title and platform to lend to their community service and local parades.
There is no live pageant and White donates any proceeds left over from entry fees to Poulsbo charities.
“Somebody can win my highest title and I never even know what they look like,” White said.
Debbie Nazarino’s daughter Emalee began competing in the program when she was four. Nazarino hoped it would pry Emalee out of her shell.
“She was terribly shy, painfully shy. I was looking for something that could give her self-esteem,” Nazarino said. “I wanted her to have something she could overcome her challenges through.”
Now 8-years-old, Emalee is outgoing as a Golden Rose Ambassador for the program. She’s held four other titles in previous years
Nazarino said the program’s focus on achievement instead of beauty has helped Emalee find success, and sets it apart from other pageants, including Trump’s.
“We could not be more their polar opposite,” said Nazarino. “It’s comparing apples to oranges.”
White doesn’t have the money for a big legal battle, she said. Now she’s awaiting guidance from a local attorney who offered his services after hearing her story. She is hoping to stay Trump’s legal team until she comes up with a plan.
“Am I really harming Miss USA? I don’t think so,” she said.