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Idaho ordered to pay $250,000 after losing ag-gag case

PETA says animal agriculture should take payout as a warning to not attempt similar bill in other states.

District court Judge B. Lynn Winmill has granted a motion filed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and a coalition of national nonprofits that awards the groups $249,875.08 in attorneys' fees from the state of Idaho. The order comes just months after the groups won  a lawsuit over Idaho's "ag-gag" law, which the court agreed violated the First and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

Idaho's law, which was passed in 2014, represented one of the most tightly written packages aimed at protecting animal facilities. Specifically, it prohibited anyone not employed by an agricultural production facility to enter or obtain records on the facility by “force, threat, misrepresentation or trespass.” It prohibited making video or audio recordings of conduct at the facility.

The bill also limited anyone from obtaining employment at a facility with the intent to “cause economic or other injury to the facility’s operations, livestock, crops, owners, personnel, equipment, buildings, premises, business interests or customers.”

The Idaho bill came on the heels of a 2012 undercover video released in the state by Mercy for Animals that later led to the firing of five workers, with criminal charges brought against three of them. The farm later installed its own surveillance cameras to keep its 500 workers in check.

The Idaho Dairymen’s Assn. pressed for the bill. Dairy producers testifying for the bill explained that animal right activists are focused more on hurting the dairy industry and its brands rather than on truly protecting animals.

U.S. law gives successful plaintiffs the right to seek the costs they incur in bringing a lawsuit in a case of violations of constitutional rights — and Winmill awarded PETA et al. nearly every dollar requested.

PETA said the lawsuit and payout should be a warning to other states considering attempting to pass similar legislation. "This ruling is a warning to other states that PETA will challenge 'ag-gag' laws, we will win and it will be costly for the state," Jeffrey Kerr, general counsel to PETA, said.

In addition to PETA, plaintiffs in this case include: Animal Legal Defense Fund, American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho, Center for Food Safety, Farm Sanctuary, River's Wish Animal Sanctuary, Western Watersheds Project, Sandpoint Vegetarians, Idaho Concerned Area Residents for the Environment, Idaho Hispanic Caucus Institute for Research & Education, the political journal CounterPunch, Farm Forward, journalist Will Potter, professor James McWilliams, investigator Monte Hickman, investigative journalist Blair Koch and undercover investigations consultant Daniel Hauff. The plaintiffs are represented by in-house counsel Public Justice and the law firm of Maria E. Andrade.

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