A Yosemite National Park trademark fight has an influential new combatant with the recruitment of a top D.C. lawyer whose clients include the daughter and son-in-law of President Donald Trump.
Attorney Jamie S. Gorelick, a longtime D.C. power player since her years as deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, now represents Yosemite’s current concessionaire in the trademark battle. Her hiring underscores the high-dollar stakes in a legal conflict that at one time seemed headed for a settlement but has since grown more complicated.
In a succinct filing last Tuesday with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, the Justice Department declared that Gorelick, a partner with the firm WilmerHale, has been retained by Yosemite Hospitality LLC. The latter is a subsidiary of the Philadelphia-based Aramark, which took over the lucrative primary Yosemite concessions contract last year.
Aramark is aligned with the Justice Department in the claims court lawsuit filed by Yosemite’s former concessionaire. A subsidiary of Delaware North, based in Buffalo, New York, called DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite is seeking compensation for trademarked names including the Ahwahnee Hotel, Curry Village and the Wawona campground.
Though described by WilmerHale as “one of Washington's best-known litigators,” Gorelick is not known for practicing before the often-obscure claims court. Her name does not otherwise show up as an attorney in the court’s database of cases.
The 66-year-old Harvard Law School graduate has risen through an escalating series of positions that have included Defense Department general counsel, member of the 9/11 Commission and vice chair of mortgage giant Fannie Mae.
Politically, she’s been a close ally of Hillary Clinton’s, which made her more recent retention by Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a shock to some. Gorelick is helping the couple with various potential conflict-of-interest concerns.
“If people want to come to me and get good, principled, ethical advice, and they want to follow it, then I will take them on as a client,” Gorelick told Politico recently.
Gorelick could not be reached Monday. Aramark spokesman David Freireich said Monday that the company had been working with the overall WilmerHale firm since 2016.
“Since the National Park Service awarded us the contract, we’ve said this matter could have been quickly resolved had Delaware North Companies chosen to do the right thing and returned these names to their rightful owner, the American people,” Freireich said in an email.
Freireich added that “we remain committed to amicably resolving this matter.”
Gorelick’s work for Aramark follows an earlier defeat for Delaware North, which had argued that Aramark should not be added to the case. In a March 9 decision, Chief Judge Patricia Campbell-Smith sided with the Justice Department in joining Aramark as a “necessary party” to the proceedings. This empowers the company to argue on its own behalf.
“Aramark’s interest in this proceeding is a direct and immediate one,” Campbell-Smith said.
Because further litigation would likely result if a judgment were to be issued against (the government), without Aramark present, the court finds that Aramark is a necessary party.
Chief Judge Patricia Campbell-Smith, U.S. Court of Federal Claims
Delaware North’s complaint does not seek to overturn the park service’s award of the 15-year Yosemite concessions contract to Aramark. Instead, the company, which held the contract starting in 1993, seeks an unspecified amount of damages from the park service.
Delaware North had valued its “intangible” property in Yosemite at $51 million, including $44 million for the intellectual property covered by trademarks. The lawsuit asserted that the park service’s “failure to require Aramark to purchase and pay fair value for the property” hurt Delaware North.
The government pegs the value of the trademarked names at $1.6 million, contending that the real value is rooted in Yosemite National Park itself rather than commercial place names.
The dueling sides were making tentative progress toward a settlement until negotiations fizzled out last summer.
“Disagreement over the value of the property at issue – trademarks and capital improvements – is the driving factor that has resulted in this lawsuit and that has prevented an amicable resolution,” Delaware North’s attorneys said in a court filing last year.