Chris Rizo Sep. 25, 2009, 1:00pm
Drew Edmondson (D)
TULSA, Okla. (Legal Newsline)- Trial has begun in Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson's closely watched lawsuit against large-scale poultry producers.
The trial against 11 large poultry producers began Thursday in U.S. district court. The trial is expected to last several weeks.
The Democratic attorney general and 2010 gubernatorial hopeful is suing Tyson Foods Inc., Tyson Poultry Inc., Tyson Chicken Inc., Cobb-Vantress Inc., Cal-Maine Foods Inc., Cargill Inc., Cargill Turkey Production LLC., George's Inc., George's Farms Inc., Peterson Farms Inc. and Simmons Foods Inc.
Edmondson claims that the companies allowed chicken waste to contaminate the 1-million acre Illinois River watershed.
The AG's case will be heard by U.S. District Judge Gregory Frizzell, who earlier rejected a motion by the poultry companies who sought a bench trial.
Frizzell also ruled that a jury could determine whether the companies are liable for civil penalties. He noted a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision that civil penalties intended to punish culpable individuals are appropriate for jury trial.
On Thursday, Edmondson told the court that the state would prove that excessive amounts of bacteria, among other health hazards, have been traced directly to poultry litter.
"They have been aware of these problems, and the evidence pointing in their direction for years," Edmondson said.
For their part, the poultry producers argue that the attorney general is unfairly targeting chicken farmers. Robert George, an attorney for Tyson Foods Inc., told the court that poultry litter as a valuable resource.
"Poultry litter is not on trial," he said. "Growers want litter. They will use it or sell it, but either way, it's a valuable commodity to them."
From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at firstname.lastname@example.org.