SaveFarmFamilies.org Urges Court to Award Legal Fees to Hudson Family Following Years of High Cost Litigation Driven by Waterkeeper Alliance Favorable ruling on legal fees would hold environmental groups accountable for reckless lawsuit against family farmers
WILLARDS, Md., Feb. 7, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Attorneys for Berlin, Maryland-based Alan and Kristin Hudson, the embattled farmers at the heart of a meritless Clean Water Act lawsuit filed by the Waterkeeper Alliance and the Assateague Coastal Trust (ACT), submitted a motion today asking a Federal Judge for repayment of legal fees and other associated costs that were expended over the last three years, which nearly bankrupted the family. The Court ruled that the Hudsons were innocent of all accusations in a December 2012 ruling. However, unlike the well-funded New York-based Waterkeeper Alliance, which was given free legal counsel by the taxpayer-funded University of Maryland Environmental Law Clinic, the Hudson family was forced to pay legal fees out of their own pockets.
Since the Waterkeepers filed their lawsuit in 2010, the Hudsons have accumulated fees totaling approximately $500,000. Without the financial support of members of their community on Maryland's Eastern Shore and farmers throughout the U.S. who raised funds by hosting spaghetti dinners and other events celebrating agriculture, they would have long ago had to give up their farm, which has been in their family for three generations.
During last Sunday's football game, viewers across the nation were reminded of the importance of family farms. "And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, 'I need a caretaker.' So God made a farmer," intoned the voice of Paul Harvey in a television ad.
"The Clean Water Act does not exist for celebrity-funded New York lawyers to recklessly and without merit sue the farmer into bankruptcy," said Hudson Family attorney George Ritchie, Esq., of Gordon Feinblatt.
"The plaintiffs funded their suit with out-of-state monies-raised during celebrity events, while the Hudsons relied on the support of their neighbors, fellow Eastern Shore farmers, and sympathetic family farmers across the country. It is time for the Waterkeepers to own up to their ill-conceived and harmful legal actions, and repay the farmers that supported this beleaguered farm family," continued Ritchie. "Further, repayment of legal fees is clearly permissible and allowed for under the CWA."
Ritchie went on to say that the case was never about the activist groups' concerns about discharges from the Hudson Farm. Instead, it was the culmination of a lengthy campaign to force poultry integrators to seriously alter if not abandon their operations on the Eastern Shore. "The Hudsons were simply collateral damage in the Waterkeepers zealous campaign to strike at Perdue and other integrators in the poultry industry," he said. "They were not content simply to pursue a senseless case against the Hudsons through the trial. They actually went a step further last year by opposing legislative attempts to help the Hudsons pay for their legal expenses, arguing that the CWA permits a prevailing defendant to recover its fees and costs. It's finally time for them to stand behind their words. The Court should award the Hudsons reasonable legal fees and costs incurred in defending this needless and groundless lawsuit."
According to Lee Richardson, president of the Wicomico County Farm Bureau and a SaveFarmFamilies.org member, farmers across America helped the Hudsons stay in the fight and it's right that those legal fees get reimbursed to dissuade activists groups from filing cases that are in reality an attempt to end contemporary agriculture. "By repaying Alan and Kristin this money, we can set a precedent that activist groups cannot 'sue first and ask questions later," he said.
Richardson said the Waterkeeper Alliance and ACT's claims against the Hudsons were groundless from the start. "When the Waterkeepers and ACT learned that what they assumed was an uncovered pile of chicken manure was actually a pile of harmless bio-solids, it nevertheless proceeded with a lawsuit, despite the Maryland Department of Environment clearing the couple of any wrongdoing," he said.
The resulting three-week trial, which took the Hudsons away from their farm and their two young children, demonstrated the irresponsible and frivolous nature of the plaintiff's claims. "Through this lawsuit, the Waterkeepers and ACT had the ability to wreak havoc on an innocent farm family simply trying to make a living by feeding Americans," Richardson said.
"The repayment of legal fees goes well beyond the Hudsons'," said Andrew McLean, past-president of Delmarva Poultry Inc. and a SaveFarmFamilies.org member. "This is an important first step to hold the Waterkeepers, the Assateague Coastal Trust and the UMD Law Clinic accountable for reckless 'hard-nosed' litigation tactics. If they do not have to pay the Hudsons' legal fees they will never stop this type of activity that unfairly harms our family farmers."
Agricultural groups around the country and in Maryland, including the Dorchester County Chamber of Commerce, continue to host events and donate funds to SaveFarmFamilies.org knowing that other farmers may find themselves in a similar predicament. "If the judge awards the Hudsons repayment, we intend to use this money to fight future cases that attempt to unfairly attack farmers without evidence proving any wrongdoing," Richardson said. "We stand united in our efforts to protect farmers, who are the fabric of our nation and the lifeblood of our communities."
For more information on the lawsuit visit: www.savefarmfamilies.org.