Paying price for beastly legal tactics
Animal-rights groups have waged a legal war against Ringling Bros. and Barnum &Bailey Circus since 2000, alleging mistreatment of elephants performing in what the circus bills as “The Greatest Show on Earth.”
Last week, the 14-year war — fought at U.S. District Court in Washington — finally came to an end. And Ringling Bros. was the unequivocal winner.
Indeed, Ringling received a nearly $16 million settlement last week from the Humane Society of the United States and several other animal-rights groups. That follows the $9.3 million settlement the circus received in 2012 from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The turning point came in 2009, when federal judge Emmet G. Sullivan rejected the specious claim by the animal rights groups that Ringling Bros. somehow violated the Endangered Species Act in the way it handled its herd of Asian elephants.
Judge Sullivan found not credible the testimony of a former Ringling Bros. barn helper, Tom Rider, who was secretly paid nearly $200,000 by animal-rights groups to level accusations against the circus.
In the wake of Judge Sullivan’s decision, Feld Entertainment, parent company of Ringling Bros., sued the animal-rights groups under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Criminal Organization (RICO) statute. Feld attorneys maintained that the animal rights groups “sought to conceal the nature, extent and purposes of the payments” to Rider.
The ASPCA said in 2012 that it wrote Feld a $9.3 million check not because of “any liability or wrongdoing” on its part, but simply because the group thought the litigation against Ringling Bros., which it and other animal-rights groups initiated, had gone on long enough.
Similarly, the Humane Society claimed last week that it joined its co-defendants in paying Feld nearly $16 million because the case “at this stage could bring no good outcome for elephants,” according to HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle.
Those attempted face-saving explanations are less than honest. The real reason the defendants settled with Feld is that, had they not, there was a distinct possibility they would be ordered to pay treble damages for the vexatious litigation to which they subjected Feld for 14 years.
“These people really misused the justice system,” decried Kenneth Feld, CEO of the private, family-run company that owns Ringling Bros.
Hopefully, the huge settlements the animal-rights groups paid will deter them from future lawsuit abuse.
— From the Orange County Register
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