Appeals court should remove skepticism in hog lawsuits

Should there be more to the announced change of judges for the next of 26 nuisance lawsuits aimed at the hog farming industry, we will stand and applaud a victory for justice. If not, we accept the result of judge and juries.

So far, there have been no wins for farmers. The lawsuits named Murphy-Brown, a subsidiary of pork giant Smithfield Foods, but there’s no mistaking these 26 cases are directly targeting our farming neighbors.

They’ve broken no state regulations. With farming and country life, just as there is in the city, there are things inherent. We harbor no ill will to the neighbors who filed, nor do the farmers. We’re troubled that neighbors otherwise peaceful and respectful of each other for years, if not decades, have been led to litigation by a Texas lawyer.

Three times, Judge Earl Britt has been on the bench, and we were first led to believe he would be there for all 26. Now there’s question and curious timing.

The first case involving Kinlaw Farms, owned by Billy Kinlaw in the White Oak community of Bladen County, ended April 26. The second case, involving the Joey Carter Farm near the Duplin County town of Beaulaville, ended June 29.

And the third, involving Elizabethtown-based HD3 Farms of the Carolinas’ subsidiary Greenwood Livestock LLC in Pender County, ended Aug. 3.

The respected judge steadfastly refused to sign paperwork so the cases could go to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. Plaintiffs have been awarded $549.25 million in damages, though North Carolina law on punitive damages caps that at $97.88 million.

Consider this timing:

• McGuire Woods, representing Smithfield Foods, asked for declaration of a mistrial more than once in the last trial.

• The week prior to the trial ending, paperwork was in motion taking Britt off the next trial involving Sholar Farms in Sampson County. The clerk for the 4th Circuit told The Associated Press that Chief Judge Roger Gregory acted “at the request of the district to assist with its caseload.”

• Then just over two weeks before the next trial was to start, Britt signed paperwork allowing the three cases to appeal. Resolution pushes the next case involving Sholar Farms to November. We don’t know if it brings back Britt.

• Last week, Britt was on the bench alongside justices Jim Wynn and William Osteen as the state’s redistricting case wrapped up in a Greensboro courtroom.

The judge’s actions have been roundly critiqued and questioned by the losing side, more than just in a manner of sour grapes. We are confident the appeals will carefully examine application of law.

There’s optimism any or all could be overturned.

Our only hope, for plaintiffs and defendants, is justice. So far, there’s reasonable doubt.

Commentary from The Bladen Journal, sister to The Sampson Independent and a Champion Media LLC newspaper.

Commentary from The Bladen Journal, sister to The Sampson Independent and a Champion Media LLC newspaper.