Poultry producers seek to delay trial

By Chris Rizo | Jul 2, 2009

Drew Edmondson (D)

TULSA, Okla. (Legal Newsline)-A group of large-scale poultry companies being sued by Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson have asked a federal judge to delay the Sept. 21 trial date.

The dozen companies are being sued by the Democratic attorney general and 2010 gubernatorial candidate for allegedly polluting the Illinois River watershed with chicken waste.

In court papers, the companies say they need more time to prepare for trial since the attorney general's office in burying them in expert testimony and sampling data.

"Despite this court's repeated admonitions and instructions, plaintiffs have continued with improper attempts to supplement their expert-based case with new sampling data and previously undisclosed expert analyses and opinions," their motion filed Tuesday said.

The motion also said the case is complex in that billions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages could be at stake.

"Defendants simply are unable to prepare for trial while they are forced continually to file a series of motions to stop plaintiffs from changing their expert case at the last minute," the motion said.

In an earlier interview with Legal Newsline, the attorney general said the poultry companies risk going broke if they don't settle before the trial.

"I would expect that the damage model that we create showing what is actually happened in the watershed will be beyond the reach of the companies," Edmondson said. "It's going to be far more significant than the resources that are available even though it's a multibillion dollar industry."

Edmondson sued 13 companies in 2005, claiming their chicken farms contaminated the 1-million-acre watershed. One of the companies, Springfield, Mo.-based Willow Brook Foods Inc., has proposed a $120,000 settlement to settle its portion of the case.

Willow Brook changed its name to Cold Zone Inc. last year. It is no longer in the poultry business. The company had owned 16 of the 1,800 poultry houses estimated to be in the Illinois River Watershed.

Other defendants in the lawsuit are: 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, Simmons Foods Inc. and Cal-Maine Farms Inc.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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