A federal judge in mid-June sided with the state of Okla-homa on several legal challenges brought by the poultry industry in an attempt to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson.
After two days of hearings in federal court in Tulsa, U.S. District Judge Gregory Friz-zell denied the poultry industry’s requests to dismiss the case on procedural grounds.
Among its victories, the state won a challenge to Edmondson’s contract with private lawyers that calls for them to be paid a percentage of any funds recovered should the state win its case.
Jay Jorgensen, an attorney for Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods and its affiliates, argued that the state constitution prohibits the use of contingency fee lawyers because it would create a “bounty system” whereby the attorneys’ private interests would influence their decisions.
At issue was a contract signed by Edmondson in July 2004 to employ three law firms to prosecute the case against 13 poultry companies accused of polluting the Illinois River watershed with excessive amounts of poultry waste.
Edmondson, who has rarely attended hearings in the case, personally argued for the contingency fee lawyer contract. He said the state has the authority to use the contingency fee arrangement if the office doesn’t have the re-sources to handle a case by themselves.
Should the state be unable to use contingency fee lawyers, it’s “entirely likely the state would not be able to continue” with the lawsuit and the pollution of the Illinois River watershed would continue, Edmondson said.
In other developments in the case, a hearing on a request by the poultry companies to seek a jury from outside the federal court’s northern district has yet to be scheduled.
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