Edmondson's case against poultry companies to get jury trial

By Chris Rizo | Aug 31, 2009

Drew Edmondson (D)

TULSA, Okla. (Legal Newsline) - Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson has the right to a jury trial in his lawsuit against large-scale poultry producers he accuses of polluting the Illinois River watershed, a federal court judge has ruled.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Gregory Frizzell rejected a motion by the dozen 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.

The state "has a constitutional right to a jury trial to determine whether defendants are liable on this claim," Frizzell wrote in his order Wednesday.

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.

Trial in the long-running case is set to begin Sept. 21. The Democratic attorney general alleges that the companies allowed chicken waste to contaminate the 1-million-acre watershed.

At least one of the defendant companies said they look forward to presenting their evidence at trial.

"We respect the judge's decision and look forward to finally having the opportunity to present the real facts, as opposed to Mr. Edmondson's political rhetoric, both to a judge and jury," said Gary Mickelson, spokesman for Tyson Foods. "We will explain how the poultry industry supports the lawful and responsible use of poultry litter as an organic fertilizer on farmland."

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

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