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OPINION: Hog trial misleading; living high on the hog isn’t for everyone

By Charlotte Smith

Some would agree country living is worth millions, maybe even priceless. Jurors in two landmark trials have awarded multi-millions of dollars to country neighbors in the recent months.

Bladen County farmers are in the midst of the third lawsuit in a series of more than 20 cases over the nuisances from smells and pests. The plaintiffs claim nuisances are produced on the farms stretched across Bladen, Duplin, Harnett, Johnston, Onslow, Pender, Robeson, Sampson, and Wake counties. Rural, farm counties may see changes they don’t like in the coming months and years.

My husband and I lived over 12 years as country neighbors. We had dozens of mice come in our home every year because of the row crops the farmers had on all sides of our home. We also had the smells of lagoons from sprayers due to the hog farms located close by our home. It is part of life in the country. Just like smog is part of life in some cities.

We lived closer to a hog farm than some of the plaintiffs in these lawsuits. The difference in our viewpoints and those of the plaintiff’s in these cases may simply be a tall, dapper, silver tongued Texas gentleman and his door to door, fast talking sales/legal team.

As I sat in the federal courtroom this week I watched Michael Kaeske, a Texas attorney representing the Plaintiffs smooth talk through his opening arguments and was almost lured to go down his bunny trails.

During a break, I noticed this very pretty, long haired blonde from the legal team whispering into each plaintiff’s ear some instructions it seemed. As she bent just enough showing her cleavage; she handed them a yellow card with each individual plaintiff shaking their heads up and down.

As Kaeske, the expert wordsmith weaved in and out of his points I realized his approach was like Johnnie Cochran. There was a lot of smoke and mirrors, but when you look at the facts in the lawsuits, Kaeske, his team and the plaintiff’s issues stem from human emotions of jealousy and greed, not from nuisances.

U.S. District Court Judge W. Earl Britt presiding over the cases seems to have a case of apathy. Judge Britt ruled in the earlier trials the jurors would not be allowed to tour the farms in the cases. As I watched him sitting on his bench in the courtroom, it seemed he was struggling to stay awake at times. It had me wondering if he is fully attentive and weighing both sides to every decision he is making during these cases.

As Kaeske presented 6-foot tall photos of his clients on the big screen in the courtroom all were smiling. Their nice homes were shown, some with big porches, gardens and horses. Some people in the world would say the plaintiffs are rich and highly favored.

Many of the plaintiffs made their homes on the properties close to the farms by choice knowing hogs would be their neighbors. More than one plaintiff moved away and came back to the area near the hog farms to live by choice.

The area around these hog farms are some of the prettiest and most peaceful in the state. The well waters in all these cases have been tested and came back clean. Home construction around the farms continues to grow. So how could a wise judge and a well informed jury send down a verdict for the hog industry to pay millions to neighbors who enjoy their land and chose to live by the farms?

While watching Kaeske and his team it would seem the cases are against Smithfield because they think the company is too big, foreign and is producing too much; however, that is not what these cases are about at all. The frivolous lawsuits are about smells and life out in the country.

It was stated this week there were no complaints about the farms from the neighbors to Murphy Brown, LLC until the slick, attractive, legal team from Texas came to North Carolina knocking on doors. One of the plaintiffs’ made a vulgar Facebook post about the lawsuit giving witness to the door to door tactics.

The plaintiff’s post was captured stating “lawyers went door to door… I can’t wait to get my M*****F****** money.” The person’s post went on to state, “I know theyre is a laundry list of regulations farmers have to follow to produce hogs & yes these farmers may not be breaking any of them…” he continued in his post, “But, I really don’t give a f*** about all that.”

After my research I feel a bit guilty I am just now realizing the detriment the lawsuits are having on our farmers and the potential it could have on the way of life as we know it. As I stated earlier, my family and I lived in a very similar situation as these plaintiffs are living. There were smells and pests we had to deal with because we lived in the country, but we chose to live there and we enjoyed our home very much.

To me it seems the plaintiffs have been persuaded to take their neighbors and farmers to court in these lawsuits because they have been told they will receive big monetary payouts. However, I’m sure the fancy Texas lawyers will get the large majority of the monies from all these cases if they are not appealed and the judge and juries come to their senses.

Our culture has become the divided and selfish instead of the free and brave. Just like Adam and Eve let the serpent talk the couple into taking the fruit not theirs to have; neighbors of our local farmers are out to bring down a way of life many enjoy because of an eloquent lawyer and his team convincing these country residents their way of life is not good enough.

Many of us today would rather sue than serve. We grow jealous of those who are living a good life and are not satisfied with the blessings we have in this great nation. Growers should not be penalized because farming is how they earn their American dream.

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