Drew Edmondson (D)

TULSA, Okla. (Legal Newsline)--The Cherokee Nation may not intervene in the Oklahoma attorney general's closely watched lawsuit against poultry producers, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Frizzell said Tuesday that he would have allowed the tribe to intervene if its request had it been timely. The trial is scheduled to begin Monday.

Attorney General Drew Edmondson is suing 12 poultry companies, claiming they allowed chicken waste to contaminate swaths of the 1-million acre Illinois River watershed.

Cherokee Nation Attorney General Diane Hammons said the tribe plans to appeal to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

She told the Tulsa World that the tribe had not wished to be a party to the attorney general's lawsuit but decided to join after Frizzell ruled that the state could not seek millions of dollars in monetary damages because the Cherokee Nation wasn't properly included.

"The question is not who owns the water," Hammons was quoted by the newspaper as saying. "The question is who owns the pollution."

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.

Last month, 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.

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