State District Judge Matthew Wilson heard seven hours of testimony and bitter argument, but then delayed until Friday a ruling on whether a horse-slaughter plant should be barred from opening. Emotions ran high Monday, January 13th, in Wilson’s Santa Fe courtroom, and he even threatened to hold the slaughterhouse’s attorney in contempt of court for an outburst during the final moments of the hearing.
Blair Dunn, the 6-foot-9 lawyer who represents the Roswell-area Valley Meat Co., slammed his hand on a table while his opponent from the state attorney general’s staff was making a rebuttal argument.
A brief silence held the courtroom before Wilson spoke. He told Dunn that a brazen show of disrespect was no way to make an objection. “Explain to me why I shouldn’t hold you in contempt,” the judge said to Dunn.
Dunn apologized. Wilson then let the confrontation die without punishing Dunn.
Dunn could not hide his frustration after a day on which he got nowhere on three of his key arguments. He said Wilson had no jurisdiction to even hear the case, but the judge accepted testimony while promising to later decide whether he had any authority to block the plant’s opening.
State Attorney General Gary King, a Democrat running for governor, sued Valley Meat Co. on those claims. Dunn has accused King of grandstanding for political gain.
Valley Meat last month had just won a federal court case challenging its operation and was negotiating details of a sewage-discharge permit with the state Environment Department, Dunn said. But King then sued the company in state District Court, a venue Dunn says has no authority to intervene on the company’s permits or business plan.
Ari Biernoff, one of King’s assistants, argued to Wilson that the attorney general had to fight the company because it poses a threat to the public. Biernoff said this case was similar to a retail business that suddenly decides it can sell medical marijuana. The attorney general cannot sit back and allow a business to do anything it likes when public safety is at stake, Biernoff said.
King’s legal team called a veterinarian and a former bureau chief for the Environment Department to try to make the case that the Valley Meat Co. is dangerous. The company proposes to slaughter up to 121 horses a day and sell the meat to stores and restaurants in international markets. Randy Parker, a veterinarian from the Colorado Springs area, was hired by King’s office to testify that horse slaughter could mar the food chain. Parker said horses often receive drugs that are not safe for human consumption.
“I wouldn’t eat horse meat,” Parker said.
But on cross-examination by Dunn, Parker admitted that he ate beef, even though cattle may receive some of the same drugs that can be used to treat horses when they get sick. Wilson, over Dunn’s objection, said he regarded the veterinarian as an expert witness.
Another state witness was William Olson, who formerly worked for the Environment Department. He said Valley Meat Co. was a bad corporate citizen, once operating a cattle-slaughter plant for three years without a valid sewage permit.
Dunn countered with a series of witnesses who testified in favor of the horse-slaughter plant. One was Jack King of the Environment Department’s health bureau. He said the U.S. Department of Agriculture has the sole authority to inspect meat-processing plants.
James Duffey, a Chaves County commissioner, appeared as an unpaid witness for Valley Meat Co. He said he lives perhaps a mile from the horse-slaughter plant and would welcome it as a neighbor if it met all requirements of the USDA and state Environment Department. “It’s providing jobs in our community and revenue to our community,” Duffey said. Benny House, the Otero County sheriff, also testified for the company. He said the number of abandoned horses in his area is escalating.
One of Dunn’s broad arguments for the plant is that the number of wild horses in America has increased since horse slaughter was halted seven years ago. Congress in 2007 stopped funding inspections for horse-slaughter plants.
In turn, Dunn said, businesses began exporting hundreds of thousands of horses to Mexico and Canada, where they die after long, painful trips to foreign slaughterhouses.
Source: The Santa Fe New Mexican by Milan Simonich
Contact Milan Simonich at 986-3080 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @milansnmreport.