Andy Griffith Once Sued a Politician Who Changed His Legal Name to Match TV Icon’s

Andy Griffith always played high-character individuals, whether he was a sheriff or a lawyer. People wanted to be like him in real life.

And back in 2006, one man running for office decided he wanted to have Andy Griffith’s name. Yes, the guy was running for sheriff. But no, it wasn’t in North Carolina, like the Andy Griffith Show. The man was running for sheriff in a small county in Wisconsin.

We’ll tell you if the name change worked, but first, you need some details.

Griffith’s lawyer filed a federal suit in November, 2006. The lawsuit said that William H. Fenrick changed his name to Andrew Jackson Griffith to better his chances for election as sheriff of Grant County in southwestern Wisconsin. The suit contended that the Wisconsin violated trademark, copyright and privacy laws and changed his name for the “sole purpose of taking advantage of Griffith’s fame in an attempt to gain votes”

Griffith’s attorneys filed the suit after the election. The lawsuit asked for the new Andy Griffith to publish disclaimers to say he had no association with the actor. The real Andy Griffith also wanted a public apology published in the local newspaper.

“For such an American icon,” Fenrick/Griffith told the New York Times, “it’s a pretty un-American thing to do to me.”

Wisconsin Voters Didn’t Confuse Real Andy Griffith for the Faux One

Now, if any voter was paying attention, he or she wouldn’t have gotten the two Griffiths confused. At the time of the lawsuit, the real Griffith was 80. The “new” Andy Griffith was in his early 40s.

And the new Andy Griffith lost. His name change did him no favors. He ran as an independent and came in third, managing about a 1,200 votes. The incumbent sheriff, a Republican, won another term.

Fenrick/Griffith owned a music store in Platteville, Wisc. And he told the New York Times he spent $5,000 on his campaign.

“During this campaign I never sold or profited even one nickel from the use of the name Andy Griffith or any item bearing the name Andy Griffith,” Fenrick/Griffith told the Times. “Everything was a promotional item, and everything was given away for free.”

But there was some good news for Griffith/Fenrick. Six months after the suit was filed, U.S. District Judge John Shabaz ruled in favor of Griffith/Fenrick. In his ruling, Shabaz wrote that the defendant didn’t use Griffith’s name for a commercial transaction. Instead, the judge stated that Griffith/Fenrick changed his name “to seek elective office, fundamental First Amendment protected speech.”

The beloved Andy Griffith died in 2012. He was 86.

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