Animal Advocates Get $250K in Legal Fees

     BOISE (CN) — A federal judge awarded $250,000 in attorneys’ fees to groups that brought down an Idaho law criminalizing undercover investigations of agricultural facilities.
     The Animal Legal Defense Fund, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and various other groups initiated the lawsuit in 2014, after the Legislature approved the so-called “ag gag” law HB 1337. Lawmakers conceived the bill as a so-called “emergency measure” in the wake of the 2012 undercover investigation by Los Angeles-based Mercy for Animals of Bettencourt Dairies, near the south central town of Hansen.
     Video captured dairy employees using a tractor and chain to drag a cow by its neck and workers beating, kicking and jumping on cows. Mercy for Animals drew national attention when ABC News showed excerpts from the video on “Nightline.”
     Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter signed the law on Feb. 28, 2014, and got hit with the lawsuit one month later, accused of First Amendment and the Equal Protection violations.
     Though Idaho claimed the law was not meant to suppress speech but to protect private property and the privacy of owners, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill disagreed, citing other laws that already provided those protections.
     “An agricultural facility’s operations that affect food and worker safety are not exclusively a private matter,” he wrote in an August 2015 order. “Food and worker safety are matters of public concern. Moreover, laws against trespass, fraud, theft and defamation already exist. These types of laws serve the property and privacy interests the state professes to protect through the passage of [the ag-gag law] but without infringing on free speech rights.”
     Winmill said the law violates the First Amendment and the equal protection clause “because it was motivated in substantial part by animus toward animal welfare groups, and because it impinges on free speech, a fundamental right.”
     The ALDF, PETA and fellow challengers then sought $255,398 in legal fees, and $3,920 in expenses.
     Idaho offered $182,352 in fees and $3,520 in expenses, saying clerical work by the Defense Fund’s paralegal should be excluded.
     Winmill eliminated the paralegal’s work, and awarded $249,875, which includes fees, expenses and costs.
     In addition to the ALDF and PETA, opponents of the law included the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Food Safety, Farm Sanctuary, River’s Wish Animal Sanctuary, Western Watersheds Project, Sandpoint Vegetarians, Idaho Concerned Area Residents for the Environment (ICARE), the political journal CounterPunch and Farm Forward.
     Will Potter, a journalist; James McWilliams, a professor; Monte Hickman, an investigator; investigative journalist Blair Koch; and undercover investigations consultant Daniel Hauff participated in the court challenge as well.

%d bloggers like this: