Embattled chicken producers want AG on the stand

Legal News Line Jan. 30, 2007, 8:15am

Drew Edmondson

TULSA -- Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson has been so voluble on a controversial forthcoming poultry pollution lawsuit that he's now been called to account. Lawyers for 14 Arkansas-based poultry producers last week filed papers with U.S. District Court Judge Sam Joyner seeking to take a deposition from Edmondson in their forthcoming hearing. Edmondson sued the 14 in mid-2005 for polluting Oklahoma's waterways. Since then Edmondson "has made all these public pronouncements in the press way above and beyond what happens in court filings," attorney John Elrod representing Fayetteville, Ark.-based Simmons Foods, told the AP. "The thrust is, he's a fact witness." The case has taken a number of twists since Edmondson first filed it in June 2005 and he has made strong public statements each time. The suit quickly sparked a turf war between Edmondson and fellow Democratic attorney general (now governor) Mike Beebe of Arkansas. Beebe filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court a few months after filing seeking to bring the state of Arkansas into the suit. Edmondson quickly filed a brief opposing the request and the Supreme Court soon after denied Beebe's request. At the time of filing the case in June 2005 Edmondson stated: "No matter how much the industry pays its public relations consultants to spin it, the truth is obvious. Chicken waste is the problem." The suit alleges that northwestern Arkansas-based chicken farms release contaminants that foul the scenic waterways of northeastern Oklahoma, which are a tourist attraction. Edmondson called Beebe's attempt to intervene in the lawsuit in late 2005 "nothing more than an attempt by Arkansas to use its status as a state to shield private companies." When the poultry companies early last year issued third-party claims against Northern Oklahoma residences, businesses and municipalities, he responded: "The corporate polluters will have a hard time convincing anyone that mom and pop's septic tank causes more environmental harm than hundreds of thousands of tons of poultry waste." High-profile targets of Edmondson's suit include Tyson Foods, Inc.; Cargil, Inc.; Cal-Maine Foods, Inc. and Willow Brook Foods, Inc. The hearing will be held Feb. 15 in the U.S. District Court in Tulsa. TIMELINE: JUNE 2005 - Oklahoma AG Edmondson files suit against 14 Arkansas-based poultry producers for waterway pollution after three years of negotiations. NOVEMBER 2005 - Arkansas AG Mike Beebe files request with U.S. Supreme Court to join case. JANUARY 2006 - Edmondson files with USSC opposing Beebe's motion. FEBRUARY 2006 - USSC denies Beebe's request. APRIL 2006 - Edmondson asks a federal court to toss third party claims against Oklahomans by poultry companies. MAY 2006 - Federal Judge Joyner allows state to take water and soil samples to test for poultry pollutants. SEPTEMBER 2006 - Joyner rules that third party defendants be stripped from Oklahoma's suit against the 14. JANUARY 2007 - Poultry producers file to take deposition from Edmondson due to his public statements. FEBRUARY 2005 - Hearing begins in U.S. Court, Tulsa, before Judge Joyner.

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U.S. Supreme Court
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Springdale, AR 72762

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