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Editorial: November/December 2010

Coming soon to a state near you …


November 22, 2010
By Marg Land

I should have been a lawyer. Growing up, my mother encouraged me to follow a career in the law,
perhaps sparked by my great ability to enrage my father during family
“discussions.” What can I say; I loved to argue just as much as he did.

I should have been a lawyer.

Growing up, my mother encouraged me to follow a career in the law, perhaps sparked by my great ability to enrage my father during family “discussions.” What can I say; I loved to argue just as much as he did.

I shied away from the bar, uncomfortable with the prospect of having to defend someone who I knew was guilty or, horror of horrors, failing someone I believed to be innocent. It takes a person with a deep love of the black and white (and green) aspects of the law to be a lawyer. I’ve always been too wrapped up in shades of grey.

Lately, I’ve been reconsidering my lost law opportunity, particularly in light of a presentation made by Marvin Childers, president and chief lobbyist of the Poultry Federation, which represents the poultry industries of Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Childers provided an update of the Oklahoma poultry litter lawsuit during the 2010 National Poultry and Animal Waste Management Symposium, held in late October in Greensboro, N.C.

The lawsuit, filed in June 2005, was launched by then Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson and involved 11 named defendants from eight different poultry integrator companies. The attorney general was seeking $800 million in natural resource damages and $1.5 billion in remediation requests, claiming land applied poultry litter was polluting the Illinois River Watershed.

“[We] were certain that, prior to me being here today, we would have a ruling from the district judge,” Childers explained. “And I could really talk about what the state of Oklahoma was doing in respect to their appeal. Unfortunately, we’re not there yet.”

As of the date of the composing of this editorial (Nov. 15, 2010), there is still no decision on the almost six-year-old lawsuit and, according to recent articles out of Tulsa, there may never be one. Following the recent U.S. elections, Oklahoma has a new Attorney General elect, Scott Pruitt, who has already announced that once he takes office, he plans to review whether the state will continue with the lawsuit. Oklahoma Governor elect Mary Fallin has stated that she also will be reviewing the litigation.

Despite the uncertain future of the lawsuit, Childers had words of caution for poultry industries in other states.

“I would say you can expect trial lawyers looking for state business,” he said. “Once they were employed by the Oklahoma Attorney General, they marketed that litigation – or, as they call it, their business model – to many state’s attorney generals.

“I believe that’s what other states have to look forward to. They’ve already spent this money now in Arkansas and Oklahoma. They’re going to have the base of their research.”

Childers added that “those carpet-bagging trial lawyers from South Carolina,” famous for orchestrating the class action lawsuit against the tobacco companies, have already spent more than $30 million in costs and experts.

And you can expect that if they can’t earn that money back in Oklahoma, they’ll be searching for another state to pay back their investment.

Hang on to your wallets. When prompted by an audience member to divulge how much poultry companies have spent defending against the lawsuit, Childers said, “I can’t comment on that. I mean it’s quite a bit more than that (the $30 million spent by the plaintiff).”


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