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Qwest vs. Yontef - Corporate Giant Targets the Single Mom.

March 25, 2005
By Jim Parker

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As a young college student, "Ma-Bell Michele", as she is known to her friends and colleagues struggled to find a vocation which would challenge her unique abilities at problem solving and satisfy her inquisitive nature. It wasn't until the late 90's that Michele found exactly what she was looking for - she became a volunteer member of MissingKIN, a worldwide organization dedicated to finding missing and abducted children comprised of some of the world's most talented private investigators, law enforcement detectives and government entities.

As a devoted single parent, Michele understood the anguish, terror and helplessness a parent must feel when their child cannot be found. With MissingKIN, Michele got her first taste of investigative work which inspired her to learn and develop her skills, excelling in areas of investigation that were currently untapped. In recognition of her accomplishments, including locating one child in mere minutes who had been missing for over 10 years, and despite numerous efforts by various law enforcement agencies to find him, Michele was invited to serve on MissingKIN's Board of Directors, which she gladly accepted. Michele continued her studies, and began to teach her unique abilities to law enforcement and other private investigators through nationwide seminars, sharing the skills and knowledge she had developed and perfected over the years. In a profession predominated by males, Michele set out to make a name for herself, and succeeded against the odds. "Ma-Bell Michele" has become a household name among the investigative profession, and her skills, knowledge and teaching abilities have garnered the attention of publications such as PI Magazine, and professional associations such as NAPPS and NALI.

However, more recently, Michele has attracted the attention of another well known entity - Qwest Communications International, Inc. Since November 2000, Ma-Bell Michele has maintained her own web site (www.ma-bell.com), which she uses to advertise her investigative business and seminars.

In January 2003, Michele received a letter from Christine Searls, Senior Attorney with Qwest Communications International, Inc., which claimed Michele had no legitimate right to use the words "Ma Bell", and demanded that she hand the domain name over to them. As a compensation for the thousands of dollars she would have to outlay to purchase a new domain name, have a new professional web site constructed, change all her nationwide advertising, business cards and stationary, not to mention the business she would lose as a result, this billion dollar corporation offered Michele a sum in the region of $30.

Michele refused their ridiculous offer, and responded with a letter [1] explaining to them that she was not "cyber-squatting" as they had claimed because she was using the domain for her legitimate business, she was not in competition with them or confusing people into thinking she was a telecommunications company, but told them that if the domain name was so important to them, they may want to consider making her an offer that was less insulting.

Rather than simply compensate Ma-Bell Michele for her forseeable expenses, Quest responded by suing Michele in federal court. In their Complaint [2], Qwest seems to be claiming that they have a legitimate right to everything with the word "Bell" in it.

Forced into litigation that she sought to avoid, Ma-Bell Michele hired California attorney Tony Chen, a specialist in trademark and copyright law to explain the Qwest position to her and file a response to Qwest's complaint. Attorney Chen entered into discussions with Qwest's attorneys in an effort to reach an amicable agreement but despite his considerable efforts, Qwest remained intransigent - Qwest was adamant that they wanted her domain, and wanted it for free. Lacking the funds necessary to retain Attorney Chen to deal with the Arizona case, Michele was left with no alternative but to submit to Qwest's demands, or continue to fight on her own.

Rather than roll over and be abused, Ma-Bell Michele is committed to representing herself pro per before the Honorable David C. Bury, United States District Court Judge, in and for the District of Arizona, case number 04-271-TUC-DCB. She will stand alone against Qwest's Senior Attorney, Christine Payne Searls, who will be supported by local counsel Jeffrey H. Greenberg of the Tucson law firm Leonard, Felker, Altfeld, Greenberg & Battaile and Kurt S. Lewis of the Denver law firm of Lewis, Meyers & Scheid, LLC.

Apparently, money is no object to those who seek to beat Ma-Bell Michele into submission.

It is hard to imagine what Qwest is thinking - if in fact they are thinking at all. The case obviously isn't about money as they must know that they would do better trying to suck blood from a stone than collect a judgment against a single mom. I suspect that this ludicrous little power play is a Qwest effort to "shock and awe" Ma-Bell Michele, hoping to use their "victory" in this case to intimidate others using variations of the "Ma Bell" name.

As a single parent and business owner myself, and knowing the difficulties, both financial and otherwise that those can bring, I can imagine the stress Michele must be under and the daunting prospects she faces. Raising her two small children and running a business on her own, this is a lot to deal with -- a fact that Qwest no doubt considered in targeting her.

I don't know what Ma-Bell Michele can hope to do, but I give her credit for refusing to be meekly slapped around; her strength and courage should be an inspiration to us all.


We will continue to report Michele's progress as this case unfolds. If you would like to be notified when this article is updated, please email me, and I will add you to the list.

Your comments are greatly appreciated. If you wish to leave a comment for Ma-Bell Michele or read the existing comments, please use the buttons below:

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Attachments included in this article:

  1. Copy of Michele's response to Qwest's original offer (PDF - 53kb)
  2. Copy of Qwest Complaint filed with the District Court of Arizona (PDF - 485kb)


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