After decades of effort, the voluntary, collaborative approach to restoring the health and vitality of the Chesapeake Bay— the largest estuary in the United States—has not worked and, in fact, is failing. A diverse group of 57 senior scientists and policymakers have joined forces to save the Bay. This is our plan.

Perdue’s PR Campaign of Deceit

(Posted by Bob Gallagher)

A group of legislators, following a script conceived by the public relations machine of Perdue and the Maryland Farm Bureau, have joined in Perdue’s unprecedented effort to derail an environmental lawsuit that has singular importance for the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The effort is unprecedented in the extent to which Perdue and its enablers are attempting to use the media and the political process to win a case that they have as yet been unable to win in court. Here is the story.

The Waterkeeper Alliance, working with the Assateague Coastkeeper, filed suit against Perdue and one of its contract chickens growers. The suit alleges that Perdue and the contractor, Hudson Farm, polluted the Pocomoke River with chicken waste in violation of the Clean Water Act (CWA).

Waterkeeper Alliance is a community supported organization that operates on a tight budget. It has thousands of supporters in Maryland. It makes extensive use of volunteers and public interest lawyers who work without charge. In this case, it is represented by the student lawyers of the University of Maryland School of Law’s highly regarded Environmental Law Clinic. The Alliance has worked with the Clinic in other cases to stop pollution of our rivers, to protect public health and to protect marine-related jobs and economic activity.

Represented by one of the biggest law firms in Baltimore, Perdue asked the court to dismiss the case as flawed at its inception. The distinguished senior judge hearing the case denied the motion. Perdue’s lawyers then unleashed a blizzard of paperwork on WKA and its lawyers apparently hoping to wear them down in the legal “discovery” process. That didn’t work either. It just made the young law students want to work harder.

Next Perdue filed a motion for summary judgment. That means judgment without a trial. They filed with the court thousands of pages of documents and transcripts of testimony of expert and other witnesses. The judge ruled that all they managed to prove was that the case was sufficiently complicated that it could only be decided after a trial.

From the beginning of the case, Perdue has been very uncomfortable with the idea that this case will be decided by an impartial, independent judge applying the rule of law. Recently, Perdue’s preference for trying the case in the court of public opinion became apparent. It launched a slick website called SAVEFARMFAMILIES. The website was created for Perdue by Levick Strategic Communications. Levick specializes in “crisis” and “high stakes” communications. Its website invites potential clients to hire it to “drive the narrative.” Levick has planted articles, spinning the facts to match Perdue’s objectives, in media across the Eastern Shore, rural Maryland and elsewhere.

On March 14, 2012, the Appropriations Committee of the Maryland House of Delegates held a hearing on House Bill 1349. The bill appears to be the latest sortie in the Perdue/Farm Bureau strategy. Introduced by an Eastern Shore delegate with the zeal of a carnival barker, the bill would punish the University of Maryland for the Law Clinic’s participation in the case by requiring the University to reimburse Hudson’s legal expenses, even if the Court finds Hudson guilty of violating pollution laws.

The delegate’s opening gambit in support of the bill was screening a video portraying the case as being about a rich, foreign organization on a subversive campaign to bankrupt family farmers. The video is expensively produced and professionally narrated.

The delegate used the video to incite a handful of other delegates to threaten the Clinic with dire consequences if it does not withdraw from the case. The website and video have created a backlash of public opinion against the Alliance and the Clinic in some segments of the farm community.

One of the reasons that, in a democracy, we entrust resolution of significant disputes to an independent judiciary applying an objective rule of law is that judges are trained and ethically bound to seek the truth and apply the law fairly. The court of public opinion has no such constraints. In the court of public opinion, the person with the most money often wins.

One of the most insidious aspects of the Perdue/Farm Bureau strategy is that it also entices our legislators to make their own judgment on the case based on the “facts” presented by Perdue’s public relations machine. The video, like the website, is a layer cake of deceit – one layer of sticky sweet lies upon another. Many of the lies are apparent from a review of readily available public documents. But, the point of this piece is not to point out each lie. The truth is for the court to determine.

It is apparent from Perdue’s actions that it desperately wants to avoid a court ruling in the case. That might be because a ruling against Perdue could make Perdue responsible not only for its waste from the Hudson farm but from its many other contract growers.

Trial in the case will proceed if the case cannot be settled in mediation. The Law Clinic has made it clear that, even in the face of intense criticism, its fledgling lawyers will continue to meet their ethical responsibility to represent their clients to the best of their ability.

It won’t surprise many readers that a number of the people involved in the effort to stop the Perdue litigation are also behind the effort to delegitimize proposals to reign in sprawl and pollution from septic systems as a “war on rural Maryland.” I suggest that some of those people could learn something about civic duty from the law students.

9 Responses to Perdue’s PR Campaign of Deceit

  1. Bravo Bob. This pernicious polution by chicken farms has infuriated me since moving here and reading that our governor won’t do anything about it. What can we do?

  2. Bob,

    I cannot believe that you are trying to spin this to your readers in this fashion. I know you graduated from law school and I did not but wow, I think I am glad that I didn’t if that is how you interpret Judge Nickerson’s recent ruling. I guess the plain English dress down of the Waterkeepers and the tactics used is somehow missed by you – purposely? You and unfortunately some of the other members of “scientists” mislead the public about the role of Maryland’s agricultural industry in bay clean-up. You grab 5-state animal statistics and apply them to Maryland, and specifically chicken, which is so misleading. Yes, we all have a role to play, but learn the facts before you speak. Talk to UMD and UD scientists that are involved in the current research on nutrient management and listen objectively. I bet your conscience will bother you after you do. Some day, the people that farmers so desperately try to tell their story to will find the real culprits in this battle and I can only hope it is before their bellies are empty.

    • Kenny

      Are you commenting on my post? I didn’t say a word about the “role of Maryland agriculture in bay clean-up.” My point was that the courts, whether this court or superior courts, will consider the evidence and the law and will decide who is right. The matter shouldn’t be judged by either the public or politicians based on Perdue’s spin, your spin or mine.Neither do I need to interpret the judge’s ruling for anyone. It is a public document. You read it; others can read it. The fact is, the case will go to trial unless the parties settle it. Our independent judiciary is a value that I think most farmers support.

      Bob Gallagher

  3. Thank goodness somebody finally just came out and said what’s really going on here. Bravo! The facts in Mr. Gallagher’s post are irrefutable. The entire campaign to portray public interest attempts to get transparency and compliance with environmental laws as some sort of conspiracy or “Kennedy” inspired attack by “monied” Waterkeepers has been offensive beyond belief. So characteristic of industry flacks and servants of big corporate money who attack and try and discredit the messenger instead of the substance of the message. Let me get this straight. If this is a big guy versus little guy battle, then how do factory farms get themselves pegged as the little guy here? What is this, Chesapeake Voodoo?

    Waterkeepers in general operate in a frustrating sphere where either government regulators virtually always insist that everything is going great with cleanups and preservation of our waterways, and/or the regulated industry insists: (a) they have a permit to do what they are doing, no matter how egregious, or (b) Citizens have no right to interfere with their cozy relationship with the overwhelmed and over whumped regulatory apparatus or (c) we are somehow communists or subversives for challenging their “constitutional” right to making living while destroying water quality for just about anybody downstream of their enterprise. Remember that utterly insulting crack about Waterkeepers being Watermelons? You know, green on the outside and red on the inside? Just shocking.

    So much that has been made public about the Hudson case that it really brings into focus how and why this problem of factory farms in the Delmarva region has been all but shelved for decades. Who had the heart for this fight, but the Waterkeepers? It’s a billion dollar industry with deep political and social ties that reach deep into the statehouse and into both parties, and is now arguing that clean water advocates are a trying to fulfill a mission to extinguish family farms. How absurd is that? How is getting disclosure of the true environmental impacts caused by the Agri-business industry a conspiracy to zap mom and pop farms?

    The hyperbole of this complex case is almost beyond belief as one of the most subsidized industries in the State, and one of the most corrosive business models is dragged into court as a last resort– all while arguing that it is blameless for environmental excesses that virtually everybody in the Bay area has known about and been helpless to fight for years. Anyhow, how does one get a vigilant and diligent agricultural industry in the State when the head of the State agency handing out the subsidies happens to be the past head of the pro-farming industry group lobbying against virtually any regulations at all for their “farming” constituents?

    If the factory farms are so above board and so blameless for at least its share of the Bay’s woes then why not let a judge sort it out and let justice prevail so we can settle this point once and for all? Instead, why all the political maneuvering and underhanded politics, plus name calling, besmirching the patriotism and motives of citizen advocates? When taking on a slippery opponent, guess what? Expect that opponent to be elusive and pull every trick in the book to avoid being brought to justice. So, even if student lawyers had too many footnotes, even if there have been some procedural ups and downs on both sides through the course of this litigation, let’s not lose sight of what is really at stake here. It’s not about Bobby Kennedy, or Watermelons or poor “woe as me” family farms”; but in the end it is truly about protecting the commons that everybody has a stake in. The undisputed facts in this matter speak eloquently for what’s going on with factory farms without us trying to drag down the law school, impugn clean water advocates, and make some broader and delusional case for exempting big poultry from much of any regulation or scrutiny at all. There may be plenty of blame to go around, but I doubt manure farms can get a clean bill out of all of this. That would be pretty amazing, don’t ya think?

  4. Thank you Bob and Frederick for the analysis and insight. This statement sums it up: “In the end it is truly about protecting the commons that everybody has a stake in.” At issue here is a need for a shift in our very culture—because our collective heavy use of resources is unsustainable. Such a cultural shift is painful, difficult, and complicated to achieve, explaining the ugly and counterproductive behavior. I sincerely hope that this case is resolved in a way that will facilitate the resolution of the many inevitable future cases as we transition to a sustainable lifestyle.

  5. I revisited the farm families website and was interested to see the pictures of the smiling mother and child. I guess the implication is that New York people are attacking innocent local farm families. It is difficult to see how a CAFO (confined animal feeding operation) could be a family farm. It is a factory farm and the workers are factory employees.

    Where are the pictures of others who want to enjoy the benefits of clean water and earth? Construing the Waterkeepers as agressors and the Hudson family as innocent victims is a warped view of what this lawsuit is all about. No one wants to initiate a lawsuit of this kind; it is only when all other reasonable efforts have failed to make changes and there is no other way to effect change. No matter the outcome of this particular lawsuit, the fact of manure piles and factory farming and their effect on all of us is in main stream consciousness.

  6. […] This case involving the Hudsons would not be the public spectacle it has become if only the Hudsons had been named in the Waterkeepers’ original notice of intent to file suit. Perdue would not have raced to the aid of the Hudsons, hired expensive advertising firms, and rallied big money sources to finance this campaign, if the corporation had not also been named as a violator in the Waterkeeper complaint. (See Bob Gallagher’s article to learn about “Perdue’s PR Campaign of Deceit.”) […]