A state district judge issued a preliminary injunction Friday night against a horse-slaughter plant in New Mexico.It was another setback, perhaps a fatal one, for Valley Meat Co., which for two years has been the target of lawsuits and heavy public opposition. The company wants to kill horses and sell the meat in foreign markets.
Judge Matthew Wilson of Santa Fe granted the injunction against the company. He accepted state Attorney General Gary King’s arguments that Valley Meat would harm the environment and contaminate the food chain.
Wilson’s ruling came after a confusing afternoon, in which he first issued an order saying he would hold a hearing on whether he should remove himself from the case because of challenges to his impartiality.
Lawyers for the slaughterhouse had filed an emergency motion asking Wilson to recuse himself. They said the judge had a conflict of interest that he failed to disclose, and that his Facebook page showed evidence of bias against Valley Meat Co.
Blair Dunn, a lawyer for Valley Meat Co., said Wilson had ties to King’s office but never mentioned them when hearing King’s lawsuit against the company. “We learned [Friday] that Judge Wilson up until 2010 worked as a special assistant attorney general assigned to the New Mexico Human Services Department. It was inappropriate that he failed to disclose that,” Dunn said.
A few hours after Wilson said he would hold a recusal hearing on whether he should be on the case, he ruled against the slaughterhouse and for the attorney general.
Dunn said his next move would be to ask the New Mexico Supreme Court to remove Wilson from the case. “We asked him nicely to recuse himself, but he’s never going to do it,” Dunn said. “The only remedy in this kind of situation is to go to the Supreme Court.”
Wilson, a Democrat, was appointed to the District Court bench in October by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez. The high-profile horse-slaughter lawsuit has been his most publicized case during his three months as a judge. On Wilson’s Facebook page, which promotes his campaign for election to the bench, various public comments against Valley Meat Co. have been posted in the last two weeks. Dunn said a judge should not have allowed comments from the public on cases he is hearing.
Wilson could not be reached about his Facebook page or Dunn’s allegations.One posting on Wilson’s Facebook page was from a woman in Pennsylvania. It said: “Implore you to not allow the needless slaughter of horses. PLS turn this down. It is disgusting and inhumane.”
In granting the preliminary injunction against Valley Meat Co., Wilson accepted all the arguments made by King’s legal team. Wilson said that, unless he ruled against the slaughterhouse, “the state and its residents will suffer irreparable injury as a result of Valley Meat’s imminent, self-declared violations” of the water-quality and food acts.
Valley Meat is not operating. But King’s lawyers argued that the company intended to begin slaughtering horses even without a state-required sewage discharge system. Dunn said in hearings before Wilson that the attorney general’s claims were not true.
Dunn said Valley Meat’s owner, Rick De Los Santos, would comply with all state and federal requirements, including sewage discharge. In fact, Dunn said, before King filed his lawsuit, the company was working with the state Environment Department to obtain a discharge permit or an acceptable pump-and-haul system.
Dunn said King’s lawsuit should have been thrown out by Wilson because the case was being reviewed administratively by the Environment Department. Moreover, Dunn argued that Wilson’s court had no jurisdiction over meat inspections or water-quality complaints.
No matter what happens in the state courts, Valley Meat and proposed horse-slaughter plants in Iowa and Missouri may never be able to open. Congress has eliminated money from the federal budget for horse-meat inspectors. A similar budgetary maneuver in 2007 effectively closed U.S. horse-slaughter plants.
De Los Santos said the congressional cuts did not end horse slaughter. Rather, he said, American horses were simply exported to border countries and killed there. About 158,000 U.S. horses were shipped to Mexico and Canada in 2012, mostly to slaughterhouses. De Los Santos said the export system meant horses live in pain and filth during transport to distant slaughterhouses.
Proponents of U.S. horse slaughter have included the Yakama tribe in Washington state. Its lawyer, John Boyd of Albuquerque, has argued that an explosion of wild horses was wrecking the environment and reducing elk and deer populations on tribal lands.
One of King’s main arguments against Valley Meat Co. was that horse meat could be tainted with drugs. King said New Mexico’s reputation would suffer globally if the state were the source of an unsafe food product.
Source: Santa Fe New Mexican by Milan Simonich
Click Here to read Judge Matthew's 1/17/14 Ruling [PDF]
The attorneys argued that the delay could be "devastating," costing their clients more than $1.5 million in lost revenues in just one month. The case could drag on for months and the losses could reach tens of millions of dollars, they said.
"The bond requires the plaintiffs to put their money where their mouth is. There are real-life consequences to these actions and we're appreciative of the judge recognizing that," said lawyer Pat Rogers, who represents Responsible Transportation, a company formed by three young men who have collected nearly $3 million from family, friends and other investors to open a plant in the town of Sigourney, Iowa.
The case has sparked an emotional debate about how best to deal with the tens of thousands of wild, unwanted and abandoned horses across the country as drought conditions and the lack of feed in many states continue to exacerbate the problem. The Humane Society of the United States, Front Range Equine Rescue, Horses For Life Foundation, and others won a temporary restraining order last week that blocked Responsible Transportation and Valley Meat Co. in Roswell, N.M., from opening their plants.
The bond covers the companies' costs and lost profits for the next 30 days should the animal rights groups lose the case. Within that time, another hearing is planned in federal court to determine the fate of the temporary ban. Attorneys for the animal rights groups argued Thursday that the losses estimated by the companies were highly speculative and the result of creative accounting.
Another permit was approved a few days later for Responsible Transportation.
The animal rights groups argue that the agency failed to do the proper environmental studies before issuing the permits. Robert Redford, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, current New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and New Mexico Attorney General Gary King are among those who oppose a return to domestic horse slaughter, citing the horse's iconic role as a companion animal in the West.
But some ranchers' groups and the National Congress of American Indians, an organization that represents tribes across the country, argue that overgrazing by feral horses has caused serious environmental and ecological damage.
Supporters also say it is better to slaughter the horses in regulated and humane domestic facilities than to let them starve or be shipped to other countries for slaughter. They point to a 2011 report from the federal Government Accountability Office that shows cases of horse abuse and abandonment on a steady rise since Congress effectively banned horse slaughter by cutting funding for USDA inspection programs in 2006.
Source: The Associated Press
Source: The Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A federal judge temporarily halted plans by companies in New Mexico and Iowa to start slaughtering horses next week.
U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo issued a restraining order in a lawsuit that has sparked an emotional national debate about how best to deal with the tens of thousands of wild, unwanted and abandoned horses across the country. The move stops what would have been the resumption of horse slaughter for the first time in seven years in the U.S.
Plaintiffs' lawyer Bruce Wagman, said his clients were overjoyed with the ruling and had been "extremely distressed that horse slaughter was going to start up again in America." The groups contend the Department of Agriculture failed to do the proper environmental studies before issuing permits that allowed companies in Iowa and New Mexico to open horse slaughterhouses.
The companies had said they wanted to open as soon as Monday. The horse meat would be exported for human consumption and for use as zoo and other animal food.
Another permit was approved a few days later for Responsible Transportation in Sigourney, Iowa.
Armijo also scheduled a hearing Monday's to determine how much money plaintiffs in the case would have to put up in advance to cover economic losses to the companies if they lose the lawsuit.
Blair Dunn, who represents Valley Meat Co., said he will ask for $10 million to be set aside. Pat Rogers, an attorney for Responsible Transportation, said his clients borrowed $1.5 million to begin the operation, with another $1.4 million from investors. "It's a small company in a small town. That's going to have significant economic impact," Rogers said.
Earlier in the day, he argued his clients started the company to fill a need. Currently, he said, old and unwanted horses have to be shipped thousands of miles in sometimes inhumane conditions to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico.
"The truth is, your honor, there is no old horses home," Rogers told the judge. "There is no Medicare for horses."
Wagman, however, argued the slaughterhouses should be forced to undergo public review under provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act. He told the court no environmental impact study has ever been done to examine the effects of horse slaughter. Horses are given more than 100 drugs not approved for other feed animals, he said.
"The government is about to embark on a brand-new multi-state program," he said. "We just don't know about the dangers that lie ahead."
The move has divided horse rescue and animal welfare groups, ranchers, politicians and Indian tribes about what is the most humane way to deal with the country's horse overpopulation.
While some tribes are opposed to horse slaughter, citing the animals' sacred place in their culture, the Navajo and Yakama nations, are among those who are pushing to let the companies open. They say the exploding horse populations on their reservations are trampling and overgrazing rangelands, decimating forage resources for cattle and causing
widespread environmental damage.
The Navajo Nation, the nation's largest Indian reservation, estimates there are 75,000 horses on its land, many of which are dehydrated and starving after years of drought.
"The only actual evidence of environmental impact is ours," said Yakama Nation attorney John Boyd, who filed a statement from the tribe's biologist about the damage from more than 12,000 wild horses on the reservation. "And it's a catastrophe that can be largely or significantly ameliorated" by making it easier for the tribe to round up the animals to slaughter.
On the other side, actor Robert Redford, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, current New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and New Mexico Attorney General Gary King are among those who strongly oppose a return to domestic horse slaughter, citing the horse's iconic role as a companion animal in the West.