A federal judge who was to handle the defamation lawsuit brought by Beef Products Inc. against ABC News has recused himself from the case, removing himself out of the case on Nov. 20.
Judge Lawrence L. Piersol did not explain why, and the case has been reassigned to Judge Karen Schreier. The trial will be handled in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Beef Products, headquartered in South Sioux City, Neb., filed its suit in September, alleging that ABC's coverage of Beef Products' main product, lean finely textured beef (LFTB), was intentionally and knowingly false and disparaging (Feedstuffs, Sept. 17).
The coverage, which began in March and lasted over several weeks, cast doubt on the safety and wholesomeness of LFTB, which is a beef product that's mixed with ground beef to increase leanness and keep prices to consumers down.
Beef Products said the coverage had significant adverse financial impact on the company, forcing it to close three of its four plants and lay off several hundred employees.
The company is seeking $400 million in damages, which can be tripled under state law regarding the defamation of agricultural products.
ABC subsequently asked the court to dismiss the suit on the grounds that it seeks to inhibit press freedom (Feedstuffs, Nov. 5).