Attorneys for Alan and Kristin Hudson have filed a motion with U.S. District Court Judge William Nickerson seeking reimbursement of legal fees and associated costs in their three-year legal battle with Waterkeeper Alliance and the Assateague Coastal Trust. In late December, the farm family and Perdue Farms were exonerated of all accusations.
Unlike the well-funded New York-based Waterkeeper Alliance, which had free legal counsel from University of Maryland Environmental Law Clinic, the Hudson family was forced to pay approximately $500,000 in legal fees. Without strong financial support of the ag community on Maryland's Eastern Shore and farmers from many states, the family would have had to give up their farm.
"The Clean Water Act does not exist for celebrity-funded New York lawyers to recklessly and without merit sue the farmer into bankruptcy," comments George Ritchie, the Hudson family attorney. "The plaintiffs funded their suit with out-of-state monies raised during celebrity events, while the Hudsons relied on the support of fellow Eastern Shore farmers, and sympathetic family farmers across the country.
"It's time for the Waterkeepers to own up to their ill-conceived and harmful legal actions, and repay the farmers that supported this beleaguered farm family," adds Ritchie. "Repayment of legal fees is clearly permissible and allowed for under the Clean Water Act."
The case was never about the activist groups' concerns about discharges from the Hudson Farm, contends Ritchie. Instead, it was the culmination of a lengthy campaign to force poultry integrators to seriously alter if not abandon their operations on the Eastern Shore.
"The Hudsons were simply collateral damage in the Waterkeepers zealous campaign to strike at Perdue and other integrators," he argues. "And, they weren't content simply to pursue a senseless case against the Hudsons.
Waterkeepers went a step further last year by opposing legislative attempts to help the Hudsons pay for their legal expenses. The environmental group argued that the CWA permits a prevailing defendant to recover its fees and costs. "It's finally time for them to stand behind their words."
"By repaying Alan and Kristin this money, we can set a precedent that activist groups cannot 'sue first and ask questions later," points out Lee Richardson, president of Wicomico County (Maryland) Farm Bureau.
Repayment of legal fees goes well beyond the Hudsons'," adds Andrew McLean, past-president of Delmarva Poultry Inc. and a SaveFarmFamilies.org member. "This is an important first step to hold the Waterkeepers, the Assateague Coastal Trust and the UMD Law Clinic accountable for reckless 'hard-nosed' litigation tactics. If they do not have to pay the legal fees, they'll never stop this type of activity that unfairly harms our family farmers."