The National Cherry Blossom Festival queen got a court's go-ahead yesterday to travel to Japan next week on a goodwill venture despite a nasty legal dispute taking place between the festival's main organizers.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson refused to prohibit the National Conference of State Societies from escorting the queen, Shannon Kula, to Tokyo and other cities where she is to meet with Japanese dignitaries.
Kula, a legislative aide to Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), had been caught in the middle of a fight between the state societies and the National Cherry Blossom Festival Inc., two prominent nonprofit organizations. The festival's leaders filed a federal lawsuit Friday alleging that the state societies had been using the festival's name illegally in fund-raising activities.
Stephen G. Janoski, a lawyer for the National Cherry Blossom Festival, asked Jackson yesterday to bar Kula from wearing the organization's regalia while in Japan. Janoski said he feared the state societies would attempt to cash in on her title during the trip.
But the president of the state societies, Glenn Mahone, said he had no intention of raising money or using the festival's trade name. In light of those promises, Jackson said there was no reason to cancel the trip.
The two groups have had a fractious relationship for years but seemingly patched their differences in 1997 with an agreement spelling out duties. The agreement expired last year, and troubles again escalated. Jackson urged the organizations to attempt to settle their arguments through mediation.
The festival group is the official sponsor of the two-week extravaganza, which is supposed to celebrate U.S. ties to Japan. Cherry trees, a parade and various galas draw hundreds of thousands of visitors to Washington each spring. The state societies have a 51-year history of crowning cherry blossom princesses and queens. The queen traditionally visits Japan in the fall.
"This has been very unfortunate," Mahone said after the hearing. "When the queen goes to Japan, she does not go to raise money. She goes to flower festivals and represents the United States. It's a goodwill trip."