agriculture, Commentary

Rep. Jimmy Dixon breaks the crass-o-meter: Farm families “raped” by Texas lawyers

 

Rep. Jimmy Dixon: His guest column is riddled with offensive references to rape. (Photo: NCGA)

Rep. Jimmy Dixon of Duplin County is notorious for eructing coarse pronouncements and unfounded accusations in public. For example, during one committee meeting , the Duplin County Republican recommended Gov. Cooper get a “spanking” and in another, claimed the Cape Fear public utility was politicizing levels of GenX in Wilmington’s drinking water.

But his recent rant about the hog nuisance lawsuits has broken the crass-o-meter. His casual and inappropriate use of the term “rape”  diminishes the traumatic experience of actual sexual assault victims.

“How do you feel knowing you allowed the Texas lawyers to rape these [farm] families?” Dixon wrote, calling out law firm Wallace and Graham in a guest column published in the News-Argus of Goldsboro. (The piece is not online, but the paper confirmed its publication.)

Dixon posted a longer version of his offensive diatribe on Facebook, at 12:34 a.m. on June 30, with more references to rape: “Does it feel any different than when you raped the Kinlaw family? Probably not because you are getting ready to economically rape all the other families you have sued.”

Wallace and Graham, based in Salisbury, hired a Dallas-based attorney Michael Kaeske to argue the plaintiffs’ cases in federal court. Murphy-Brown, the defendant, is represented by McGuireWoods, which is headquartered in Virginia and has offices not only in Raleigh, but also internationally, including Beijing and Brussels.

Murphy-Brown has lost both cases, with juries awarding millions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages to neighbors of industrialized hog farms.

Dixon continued his sexually obsessed prose, using the word “pimping,” while questioning Wallace and Graham’s expenses, of which he has no direct knowledge. “Have you shared with those good black neighbors of these frightened hard-working family farmers how much your expenses are going to be? Probably not. Because you know when they find out they are going to realize just how badly you have raped and prostituted them for your greedy benefit.”

He also criticized US District Court Senior Judge Earl Britt for allowing the cases to be heard. “He doesn’t have his thumb on the scales. His sorry ass is sitting on the scales!”

Dixon himself is a turkey farmer but is a close friend of the hog industry. In the first quarter of the year, half of Dixon’s $81,775 in campaign contributions came from agribusiness. He received $37,150 from various individual farmers and agribusinessmen and $5,200 from Smithfield, which owns Murphy-Brown. (This coziness could help explain one of Dixon’s parting shots: “I hope Smithfield has the moral courage to tell you skunks that they are going to fight you till hell freezes over!!!”)

And McGuireWoods — yes, that McGuireWoods — gave Dixon $1,000 on May 4, about a week after Murphy-Brown lost its first nuisance case.

Jimmy Dixon Editorial by Lisa Sorg on Scribd

agriculture

BREAKING: Neighbors 2, Murphy-Brown 0: Jury awards plaintiffs $25 million in hog nuisance suit

Duplin County, human population 58,000, hog population 2 million. The Joey Carter farm, whose hogs are owned by Murphy-Brown, is near Kenansville.

This is a breaking news story. Look for more in-depth analysis of the trial and the significance of the verdict on Monday.

After three days of deliberation, a 12-person federal jury has awarded Elvis and Vonnie Williams more than $25 million in compensatory and punitive damages in a hog nuisance suit against the world’s largest pork producer, Murphy-Brown/Smithfield.

The Williamses live in Duplin County near a 4,780-head industrialized hog farm. Joey Carter owns the farm, but Murphy-Brown owns the pigs and dictates every aspect of the operation. That includes the waste management system, composed of open-pit lagoons and spray fields, which stink and attract flies, gnats, buzzards, as well as generate dust and truck traffic.

The jury awarded each Williams $65,000 in compensatory damages and $12.5 million apiece in punitive damages. A jury can award punitive damages only if it finds a defendant acted “intentionally, maliciously, or with utter disregard for the rights and interests of the plaintiff.”

Juries also use punitive damages to deter further wrongdoing by the defendant or others.

A state cap on punitive damages, though, limits the amount to no more than $250,000 or three times the amount of compensatory damages, whichever is greater. In this case, the greater amount would be $250,000 each, for a total of $315,000 per plaintiff. The judge is in charge of reducing the amount; state law prevents juries from knowing in advance that there is a cap on punitive damages.

It is expected that Murphy-Brown will appeal to the Fourth Circuit.

This case was considered the defense’s strongest. Per the court, the plaintiffs attorneys and the defense attorneys alternate between choosing the parties for each trial. The plaintiffs’ attorneys at Wallace and Graham in Salisbury chose the parties in the first trial, which ended in a $50 million judgment for the plaintiffs, reduced to $3.25 million. The defense team at McGuireWoods chose the parties in this trial. The trial lasted nearly a month, and was extremely contentious.

At one point, the defense motioned for a mistrial because a juror had informed the court that another juror had seen something on the internet about the NC Farm Act. The Act, which is now law, was written specifically to all but prohibit neighbors from suing industrialized hog farms.

Verdict by Lisa Sorg on Scribd

agriculture, Commentary

Why farmworkers don’t get paid for overtime (and what should be done about it)

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), U.S. hourly workers must receive overtime pay for any hours worked over 40 in a workweek at a rate of time and one-half their regular rate of pay—that is, unless you are a farmworker. Earlier this year, on FLSA’s 80th anniversary, Senator Kamala Harris and Representative Raul Grijalva introduced the Fairness for Farm Workers Act, a bill that would correct this injustice by extending overtime pay to farmworkers.

Since 1938, FLSA has guaranteed the right to overtime pay for most workers, but for the past 80 years farmworkers—who often endure more than 10-12 hour shifts—have been excluded from the protections afforded by this law. A big reason for this, as the Huffington Post explains, is that during the 1930’s southern Democrats formed part of the political coalition enacting the New Deal. These southern Democrats intended to keep farm work, most of it done by African-Americans, as cheap as possible. After eight decades, these exclusions continue to negatively impact African-Americans and Latino farmworkers. Below are a pair of testimonies from farmworkers that explain the need for overtime protections.

Statement of Bety — a farmworker from New York state:

“My name is Bety. I live and work in NY State. I am an agricultural worker. I have been working in agriculture for 8 years. It is hard work and poorly paid. I work more than 8 hours a day, 6 days a week. Or sometimes I work fewer hours depending on the weather. I am currently working on an apple ranch and here the weather during the winter is very cold. A lot of the times we have to work in very cold temperatures pruning apple trees and sometimes the snow reaches us above our knees. We work even when it’s raining or when the temperature is above 90 degrees. I work all year in the same place and I would like to have the same rights as other workers from different industries such as receiving overtime pay, having the right to organize, and decent housing. Read more

agriculture, Courts & the Law, Environment, Legislature

Shielding Murphy-Brown from nuisance lawsuits sparks a fracas in the streets, a battle in the courts and a struggle in the legislature

The band was in the middle of its set of oldies and country tunes when a bystander in the crowd of 500 people muttered, “Uh-oh. This could be trouble.”

Several husky men had gathered in front of the bandstand on the Bicentennial Mall in Raleigh yesterday afternoon, where farmers, their families, state officials including Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler, and Smithfield Foods employees, had assembled for a rally. The men brandished preprinted signs that read “Stand up for NC Farm Families” and “NC Farms can feed stupid. NC Farms can’t fix stupid.”

They flanked another slighter man, whose hand-drawn sign defended migrant farmworkers, as well as neighbors of industrialized hog farms, many of whom have sued Smithfield over the stench, flies, buzzards and truck noise from these enormous operations.

“Your God is watching,” the sign read.

There was a scuffle, with hollering, shoving and pointing. A woman sandwiched herself between two men, trying to defuse the fight. The crowd jeered as a plainclothes police officer, accompanied by another officer in uniform, led the man with the hand-drawn sign, away.

Behind the stage, as the man recorded the interaction, police told him that he could not disrupt a gathering that had received a permit.

“I’m speaking out for the people of eastern North Carolina who have hog shit sprayed on their houses,” he yelled.

The rally occurred on the same day of Gov. Roy Cooper’s expected—and later delivered — veto of Senate Bill  711, the NC Farm Act, as well as the closing arguments in the second of more than a dozen nuisance suits filed in federal court. The common thread in all three events – the rally, the nuisance litigation and the bill – is Murphy-Brown/Smithfield Foods.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the world’s largest pork producer, and its lobbying arm, the NC Pork Council, are the bullies on the block. As has played out in the legislature and in court, it’s become apparent that they use legal maneuvers, a sophisticated public relations machine, political influence and occasionally, even intimidation, to maintain their hold over North Carolina.

In addition to their powerful greenwashing machine, both entities have wielded their considerable influence over the sponsors of Senate Bill 711, including Sen. Brent Jackson. Jackson openly acknowledged on the Senate floor and in committees that he filed the legislation explicitly in response to Smithfield/Murphy-Brown losing the first nuisance suit in federal court.

Through a variety of legal barriers, the NC Farm Act would all but eliminate the right of neighbors to sue Murphy-Brown for nuisance. The Farm Act’s purpose is at best to deter, and at worst, to punish anyone who dares to confront the company. The bill could be up for an override vote as early as Wednesday.

While Murphy-Brown has framed the nuisance suit issue as an attack against small farmers – thus the reason for the rally – the suits are not against the farmers. They are against Murphy-Brown.

Read more

agriculture, Defending Democracy, Environment

WATCH: Republican legislator chide colleagues on rushed process, legislation to protect “one giant corporation” (video)

If you missed it with this week’s marathon sessions at the General Assembly, be sure to take 14 minutes this weekend to listen to Rep. John Blust repeatedly challenge his colleagues on the House floor for their efforts to rush through the controversial Farm Act.

(As Policy Watch’s Lisa Sorg has reported SB 711 would all but erase the rights of neighbors of industrialized hog farms to sue for nuisance. The bill follows a $50 million dollar verdict in April in which Smithfield Foods lost a high profile nuisance suit to several Bladen County families.)

Rep. Blust, a Guilford County Republican, blasted legislative leaders for fast tracking the bill in response to an April court ruling, and then refusing to allow any amendments to be considered.

“We’re the people’s house and the people’s legislature, and we ought to do business in a deliberative fashion that befits the trust that’s been bestowed on us by the people.”

And for those who opted not to speak up, Blust offered this blunt assessment:

“What we do here is not a small matter. And people who really don’t want to look at these bills and have the debates, there’s still time till August to go ahead and take your name off the ballot and your party can  replace you. This is our duty.”

Click below to watch Rep. Blust’s full 14 minute speech:

In the end, the Republican-controlled House voted 65-42 to approve the farm Act, sending the measure to Governor Roy Cooper’s desk.