The North Carolina Pork Council said Friday a gag order imposed by Judge Earl Britt in ongoing hog nuisance lawsuits has been lifted.
Andy Curliss, the CEO of the council, posted the news on the group’s website.
“While lifting the gag,” Curliss wrote, “Britt also indicated that the gag was put into place because of a range of publicity that occurred during the second of three trials.”
He added, “Britt left open the door that he would consider putting a new gag order into place.”
Parties were advised to file any such requests by mid-September, the website said.
Three lawsuits have gone to trial, all naming Smithfield Foods’ subsidiary Murphy-Brown as defendant. The first involved Kinlaw Farms in Bladen County, the second involved Joey Carter Farms in Duplin County, and the third involved Greenwood Livestock in Pender County.
Kinlaw Farms is owned by Billy Kinlaw. Joey Carter owns Joey Carter Farms. Greenwood is a subsidiary of Elizabethtown-based HD3 Farms of the Carolinas, owned by White Lake’s Dean Hilton. Those cases ended, respectively, on April 26, June 29 and Aug. 3.
Plaintiffs have been awarded $549.25 million in damages — $97.88 million after state law is applied to punitive damages. All three cases have moved to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.
A trial involving Sholar Farms of Sampson County was scheduled to start Tuesday. It has been pushed back to Nov. 13.
Settlement talks have been reported. There are 23 more cases to follow, including at least one each with ties to Kinlaw Farms and HD3 Farms.
Hog farming provides 46,000 jobs and is an $11 billion industry in the state.
Alan Wooten can be reached at 910-247-9132 or email@example.com. Twitter: @alanwooten19.