Hog farm trial now in hands of jury

By: By Alan Wooten - Bladen Journal

Editor’s note: At press time for Friday’s print edition, the trial had yet to go to the jury. The following is an update from Thursday’s proceedings.

A third lawsuit involving hog farms that began last month went to the jury Thursday.

WRAL reporter Travis Fain, who has been following in court, reported the Texas lawyer for the plaintiffs suing Smithfield Foods asked for $2 million to $4 million per plaintiff in compensatory damages. Punitive damages are capped in North Carolina; two previous trial wins by hog farm neighbors included jury awards of six figures in compensatory damages against Smithfield, and tens of millions in punitive awards that hit the cap.

There are 23 more lawsuits to go against Murphy-Brown, the pork production division of Smithfield.

The jury includes 10 women and two men. They’ve been in court since mid-July. In the first two trials, the juries were back in less than a week, but did need more than a day.

Michael Kaeske, owner of a law firm in Austin, Texas, is representing the plaintiffs. According to published reports, he’s a former member of the Dallas law firm, Baron & Budd, suing Chemours, the chemical plant at the Bladen-Cumberland county line that produces the GenX compound.

Kaeske argues the neighbors have been inconvenienced and unable to enjoy their property.

The Facebook page of HD3 Farms of the Carolinas, the business in the crosshairs of this suit, is filled with support. HD3 is owned by Dean Hilton of White Lake; the farms are in Pender County. A gag order from the bench is in place, and jurors were not allowed to visit the site in question.

In a blog post on ncfarmfamilies.com before the trial started, Hilton said Smithfield Foods was targeted because of its deep pockets, but that all of farming was on trial. Individual farmers were in original lawsuits that have changed over the years.

Scores of elected officials, from within counties to state and federal levels, have rose up and rallied for farmers.

North Carolina has roughly 2,200 hog operations. It is an $11 billion business for the state, with about 46,000 jobs. Smithfield Foods has a large slaughtering operation near Tar Heel. More than 5,000 people are employed there.

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Previous story:

A third lawsuit involving hog farms that began last month could be nearing an end soon.

The jury of 10 women and two men have been listening to testimony since the middle of July. Similar to two previous lawsuits, the ebbs and flows have sought to put farms in a bad light and their neighbors in the country as victims inconvienced and unable to enjoy their property.

The suit is being heard in Raleigh, where a Texas law firm says two farms in Pender County owned by a businessman from Bladen County are problematic. Four farms were once involved in the case. Six people are suing.

At least six counties, including Bladen, have passed resolutions in support of farmers and the 2018 Farm Act passed by the legislature. Eight communities, including Elizabethtown and White Lake, have also put their support in writing.

Notably, Pender County commissioners are also in support of agriculture.

The Facebook page of HD3 Farms of the Carolinas is filled with support. Smithfield Foods is the named defendant, but farms owned by HD3’s Dean Hilton are in the crosshairs of this trial. A gag order from the bench is in place, and jurors have not been allowed to visit the site in question.

In a blog post on ncfarmfamilies.com before the trial started, Hilton said Smithfield Foods was targeted because of its deep pockets, but that all of farming was on trial. Individual farmers were in original lawsuits that have changed over the years.

North Carolina has roughly 2,200 hog operations. It is an $11 billion business for the state, with about 46,000 jobs. Smithfield Foods, facing more than two dozen nuisance lawsuits, has a large slaughtering operation near Tar Heel. More than 5,000 people are employed there.

Michael Kaeske, owner of a law firm in Austin, Texas, is representing the plaintiffs. According to published reports, he’s a former member of the Dallas law firm, Baron & Budd, suing Chemours, the chemical plant at the Bladen-Cumberland county line that produces the GenX compound.

https://www.bladenjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Smithfield-logo-8.gif

By Alan Wooten

Bladen Journal

Alan Wooten can be reached at awooten@bladenjournal.com or 910-247-9132.

Alan Wooten can be reached at awooten@bladenjournal.com or 910-247-9132.