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October 19, 2012

Justice for All, Page 2: Full Court Press

APL team flexes its muscles during the battle to pass Proposition 2

All Animals magazine, November/December 2012

  • APL deputy director Ralph Henry with his dog Oliver. Meredith Lee/For The HSUS.

by Julie Falconer

"Far too often, decisions are made based on politics and the fact that a well-funded group has a lot more influence than animals do. That's a role The HSUS fills—to push back."  — Ralph Henry, APL deputy director

The HSUS launched its Animal Protection Litigation section in 2005 with three lawyers and one purpose: to use local, state, and federal laws to confront animal abuse. Within a year, animal use industries were feeling the pressure. “Livestock groups in the United States are facing many lawsuits from animal welfare groups,” reported one agribusiness publication. “… The major challenges are coming from the Humane Society of the United States.”

But it was during the Proposition 2 battle in 2008 that the litigation team, which had grown to a dozen attorneys, proved just how powerful an adversary The HSUS could be.

In their campaign to defeat the measure, large-scale egg producers claimed that their confinement facilities were good for communities and for the land. HSUS lawyers met with the neighbors of a San Joaquin Valley egg factory where ammonia levels were so high, says senior attorney Peter Brandt, “you just feel like somebody clobbered you with a bat.” A month before the election, The HSUS filed suit on behalf of the neighbors.

While factory farmers contended that legislation was unnecessary because their animals were already treated well, an HSUS undercover video revealed appalling abuses of sick and injured cows at a California slaughter plant. The legal team traced the meat to the national school lunch program and a government contract that barred the use of meat from downed animals. They launched a multimillion-dollar government fraud suit against the Hallmark/Westland slaughter operation.

In the case of the American Egg Board’s $3 million, the team filed suit in late summer, carefully timed to preempt the release of the anti-Prop 2 ads. “We couldn’t just sue in February, win, and expect that that $3 million wouldn’t get diverted to another group without us knowing about it,” says Henry. “We knew they wouldn’t put it in the Egg Industry journal next time.”

The judge reached a verdict in 15 minutes. In a written opinion, she chastised the USDA for its “unlawful meddling” with state legislation and barred the agency and the egg board from running the ads before the election.

Seven weeks later, when 8.2 million Californians voted in favor of Prop 2, the victory reflected more than a shift in public opinion over the treatment of farm animals. It was also evidence of a movement that was growing more savvy, more creative, and more focused in its legal strategy.

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