Poultry suit moves to federal mitigation
Retired 10th Circuit Court judge to help state, poultry find agreement
By KELLY BOSTIAN
After one-on-one negotiations flagged, a retired federal judge will now mediate a solution to Oklahoma’s long-running lawsuit against major poultry producers.
Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond’s office provided a copy of the concise order from U.S. Northern District Court Judge Gregory Frizzell Tuesday afternoon.
Dated Monday, the order simply cancels a hearing set in Tulsa for this coming Friday and orders all parties to mediation before retired Tenth Circuit Chief Judge Deanel Reece Tacha.
The order directs the state and poultry industries to issue a “Joint Status Report” 14 days following the conclusion of the mediation.
Drummond said Saturday that Tacha is the right person for the job.
“This federal judge, she’s sharp, and she is well versed in environmental law,” he said. Drummond said he was confident she would embrace the 219-page findings of fact and conclusions of law Frizzell issued on Jan. 17 and get negotiations on track.
Initially filed by Attorney General Drew Edmondson in 2005, with a lengthy hearing in Tulsa in late 2009 and into early 2010, Frizzell’s long-awaited findings reignited talks on the matter that Drummond characterized as “chippy.”
Frizzell initially ordered the parties to agree by March 17, or he would pass a ruling of his own, but in March, he allowed a 60-day extension to June. 16. Now, he has canceled that hearing in favor of Drummond’s request for mediation.
Frizzell’s findings are critical of the poultry industry. The document includes numerous references to both scientific and legal papers. It puts responsibility for decades of phosphorus contamination in the Illinois River Watershed directly on Tyson Inc., Cobb-Vantress Inc., Cal-Maine Inc., Cargill Inc., George’s Inc., Peterson Farms and Simmons Foods.
Tacha is noted for more than 20 years of service on the Tenth Circuit, including seven years as Chief Judge. Upon retirement in 2011, she was named Dean of the Pepperdine University School of Law.
JAMS Solutions mediation and arbitration firm lauds Tacha, 77, “known for her keen intellect, creative problem solving, and ability to grapes issues quickly.” The firm notes she is an effective collaborator with particular attention to civility.
Drummond said after requisition mediation that his goal is to find a solution for clean water without injuring the poultry industry.
“We need a standard,” he said. “But if this is the standard we need to have, you don’t need to have it today. Let’s set a plan to get there because, right now, we’re polluting the crap out of our water. And yes, it’s not all poultry, but poultry is the significant part.”
The Oklahoma Ecology Project is a nonprofit dedicated to in-depth reporting on Oklahoma’s conservation and environmental issues. Learn more at okecology.org