By Charlotte Smith
The third week in the third lawsuit trial involving hog farms and their neighbors is quickly coming to an end. This week during the trial, Bladen County farm producer, Dean Hilton took the stand along with a key plaintiff from Pender County, Jimmy Jacobs.
Bladen County native, Hilton was not given much time for extended answers once questioned by Michael Kaeske, the Texas lawyer for the plaintiff’s, while on the stand this week. He was questioned about his involvement with Greenwood I and II.
Yes and no answers were about all Kaeske would allow Hilton to say when asking about reports in evidence. Some witnesses said the exchange between Hilton and Kaeske became contentious.
The Greenwood property was purchased by Hilton and his partners in late November of 2014. Hilton and his partners began renovating the hog farms in mid 2015 according to reports. Kaeske and his team pulled reports and asked questions from the time period before the Greenwood farms became property of Hilton.
Testimony was given on the new processes Greenwood I and II implemented which allows fertilizer to be applied in a low-to-the-ground method with a “rolling bar” applicator. This process is thought to minimize the odor caused by fertilizer application.
Jimmy Jacobs one of the plaintiff’s key witnesses testified on Tuesday. Jacobs testified to the spray and odor coming from the field directly across from his home where human wastes are applied. The cause of the odor Jacobs pointed out during his testimony was not the hog farms, the lagoons or the fields where the hog farm fertilizers are applied.
Jacobs also testified to gardening almost all year long. He said he feeds his friends and family members from his garden every year and no one had ever been sick from his produce that he knew of according to his testimony.
After a break in the trial, Jacobs came back and after his lawyer questioned him again about where the odor comes from, Jacobs said, “I made a mistake.”
He stated, it’s the hog farm that’s the problem, not that other field next door.
As Hilton struggled to be heard in the courtroom this week, Murphy-Brown, which is owned by Smithfield Foods named in the lawsuits is continuing their petition from July 6 to the federal appeals court for freedom of speech.
U.S. District Judge Earl Britt presiding over the hog farm trial cases put a gag order in place in June because of media influence concerns. Murphy-Brown argues the gag order is unconstitutional.
In their appeal Murphy-Brown sited “an impermissible prior restraint on free speech because it prohibits dozens — if not hundreds — of individuals from speaking freely about facts related to the nuisance cases.” The defendants are also quoted in the appeal saying, “this is the most serious and least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights.”
The appeal also states, “The gag order thus prevents Murphy-Brown from defending itself while giving its critics free reign to publish factually erroneous claims and slanted opinions without rebuttal… Such one-sided treatment both violates Murphy-Brown’s free speech rights and jeopardizes the impartiality of a jury pool that is exposed to a lopsided message critical of Murphy-Brown’s business.”
The appeal sites the gag order is also too broad. The order is not specific to which media outlets could not be used and if social media is included in the order.
Murphy-Brown used examples in the appeal of news articles stating the defendants had no comment while activists for the plaintiff’s may give statements with no opposing arguments.
Last week, BladenOnline.com published a poll on our Facebook page asking, “What do you think? Is the hog farm industry producing collateral damage or a country smell with their hog farms?”
According to Facebook insights the poll reached 3,067 people. In the poll 92% (302) of the people that took the survey said they think hog farms produce a country smell; while 8% (26) of the people think hog farms do produce collateral damage.