HSUS comes through on the USDA APHIS records

Top part of an inspection report

Today, HSUS filed a Notice of Violation of Court Order with the Department of Justice because of the USDA pulling the APHIS records.

I did not know that the HSUS had filed a lawsuit years ago forcing the USDA to provide access to its inspection records for universities and research labs. By pulling these records, the USDA is in violation of the court settlement.

As noted in the letter, pulling these records also runs counter to government transparency requirements established by Congress. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that the impetus for this action was the short-sighted, mean-spirited actions of Trump’s transition team.

In addition, the HSUS noted in its story on the filing that the USDA finally did pull the license of several breeders in Missouri…including Rabbit Ridge. Rabbit Ridge is finally done.

The Humane Society is one of the groups we need to donate to, to protect animals and the environment during a Trump administration.

Responding to Charity Navigator’s DA on the Humane Society of the United States

I was sent a link to a story and asked if it was true. The story noted that Charity Navigator, the charity watch dog group, had attached a Donor Advisory to the Humane Society of the United State’s listing, specifically because of the lawsuits related to the Ringling Brothers circus.

I was astonished. A donor advisory because of a single Endangered Species Act lawsuit? Many nonprofits are involved in lawsuits as they work to achieve the goals that are part of their underlying mission. I have a hefty annual PACER (federal court document system) fee because of the documents I download for the numerous environmental and animal welfare cases I follow—and I’m only following a tiny fraction of the cases I’d really like to follow.

Was the Donor Advisory given because the animal welfare groups lost the case? I would hope not, because penalizing nonprofits for taking a chance in court would have a chilling effect on their ability to do their work.

Was the Advisory given, then, because they also entered into a settlement for attorney fees? That seems to be more likely, especially considering the hefty size of the attorney fee settlement ($15 million). However, that a single incident related to a single court case would override 60 years of history in the Charity Navigator’s decision seemed both capricious and arbitrary. If civil lawsuits were not part of the arsenal of the organization, or if HSUS was in the habit of losing these cases and having to pay hefty attorney fees on a regular basis, then I think it would give most people pause before donating—but a single instance? Frankly, my first reaction was, “Well, aren’t you the precious.”

Charity Navigator also referenced the fact that Ringling Brothers filed a counter-lawsuit against the animal welfare organizations based on RICO—the Racketeering law. The reference to RICO does sound serious, if it weren’t for the fact that because of the RICO law’s overly loose design, and due to the Supreme Court’s over-reliance on the “intent” of Congress when passing the law, RICO’s purpose has been badly muddied over the years. Now, rather than go after the Mafia or sophisticated white-collar criminal networks, RICO has become a highly tempting tool in corporate America’s tool belt, especially after the recent findings in the Chevron RICO lawsuit related to the earlier lawsuit brought by poor Ecuadorians against the oil company for environmental damage to their lands.

Regardless, neither lawsuit—the original Endangered Species Act lawsuit brought by the animal welfare groups (not including HSUS), or the RICO case—ever reached a decision on the merits. The former was dismissed because of lack of standing, and the second never went to trial. As part of the attorney fee settlement, Feld Entertainment (parent company for the circus) agreed to dismiss the RICO lawsuit. The fact that the corporation filed a complaint should be seen as irrelevant and not figure into any agency’s determination of whether the organizations involved are sound or not. Not unless Charity Navigator believes that all one has to do is file a complaint in court and it’s automatically taken as true.

Charity Navigator noted the reasons why the Judge dismissed the ESA case for lack of standing, though the agency’s understanding of the legal documents and associated time line of all the events are equally confused and inaccurate. For one, the agency stated that Feld filed the RICO lawsuit after the ESA case was decided. Feld originally filed the RICO lawsuit in 2007 when Judge Sullivan denied the company’s request to amend its answer and assert a RICO counter-claim. The new lawsuit was stayed until the ESA case was decided in 2009, and Feld amended its original complaint in 2010, when the RICO case started up again.

I wanted to pull out part of the memorandum Judge Sullivan wrote in 2007 when he rejected Feld Entertainment’s request to amend their answer (leading to the RICO lawsuit). It relates to Feld’s implication that the animal welfare groups were involved in a complex and corrupt scheme to pay their co-plaintiff, Tom Rider that the company lawyers claimed they didn’t know about until 2006.

Finally, the Court cannot ignore the fact that defendant has been aware that plaintiff Tom Rider has been receiving payments from the plaintiff organizations for more than two years. Although defendant alleges an “elaborate cover-up” that prevented it from becoming “fully aware of the extent, mechanics, and purpose of the payment scheme until at least June 30, 2006,” Def.’s Mot. to Amend at 4, such a statement ignores the evidence in this case that was available to defendant before June 30, 2006 and does not excuse defendant’s delay from June 30 forward. Plaintiffs’ counsel admitted in open court on September 16, 2005 that the plaintiff organizations provided grants to Tom Rider to “speak out about what really happened” when he worked at the circus.

In other words, Feld’s lawyers found out about the “elaborate scheme” to fund Tom Rider, because the animal welfare groups mentioned funding Tom Rider during a court hearing in 2005.

As for that funding, it is true that the animal welfare groups paid Tom Rider about $190,000 over close to ten years. However, what isn’t noted is that some of that “money” wasn’t money at all. Rider was given a computer, a cell phone to keep in contact with the groups, a used van so he could travel around the country speaking out about the trial and his experiences with the circus, and various other goods. The groups also provided IRS forms for years 2000 through 2006 for Rider. When I added up the income for these years, it came to $152,176.00. However, after all of Tom Rider’s expenses were deducted, over the seven years he “took home” a total of $12,582, for an average of $149.78 a month. That’s to pay for all of his personal expenses—including a cheap dark blue polyester suit and equally cheap white shirt and tie he wore to the trial. (Tom Rider must have stood out for the plainness of his garb when next to Feld Entertainment’s $825.00 an hour DC lawyers during the trial.)

Among the small selection of oddly one-sided court documents that Charity Navigator linked, another was the Judge Sullivan decision denying the animal welfare group’s motion to dismiss the RICO case. What stands out in this document is a reference to the original Judge Sullivan decision, specifically a comment about the Rider funding:

The Court further found that the ESA plaintiffs had been “less than forthcoming about the extent of the payments to Mr. Rider.”

I compare this statement with Sullivan’s statement I quoted earlier, wherein Sullivan denied Feld’s request to amend its complaint because of the supposed underhanded and secret funding—an assertion that Sullivan rejected in 2007. The newer constradictory 2009 statement was just one of the many inconsistencies in Judge Sullivan’s decisions over the years related to these two cases.

But the last issue that Charity Navigator seemed to fixate on was Feld’s attempt to get confidential donor lists from the animal welfare groups. I’ve written about this request, and my great disappointment in Judge Facciola’s decision to grant the request.

Nothing will ever convince me this wasn’t a bad decision, with the potential to set an extremely bad precedent. Even when the discovery was limited primarily to those people who attended a single event, it’s appalling that a confidential donor lists can be given to a corporation who represents everything the donors loath and disdain—and a corporation with a particularly bad record when it comes to dealing with animal welfare groups and other people—not to mention its abysmal record when it comes to its animal acts.

The animal welfare groups settled because when you have a billionaire throwing $825.00 an hour lawyers at a case, and said billionaire doesn’t care how much it costs to win, it didn’t make sense to continue fighting a fight that was already stacked against them. When Judge Sullivan ruled on the ESA case, he should have recused himself in the RICO case, because to rule favorably for the animal welfare groups in the RICO case would be to say he was inherently mistaken in many of his assertions in the ESA case. When he turned the case over to the Magistrate Judge, Judge Facciola should have exercised independent thinking rather than just continue to parrot Judge Sullivan. In light of this judicial bias, and the fact that the groups would continue to spend way too much money fighting a lawsuit that the other side would deliberately stretch out as long as it possibly could, keeping up the fight was a lose-lose situation.

Top all that with the threat to the anonymity of their donors, and the groups settled. Point of fact, if they settled specifically to protect their donors, more power to them. They should be commended for doing so, not punished.

What’s ironic is in my original posts on the donor list request, I noted that if the animal welfare groups had to give these lists out, it would most likely impact on their ratings in sites such as Charity Navigator. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect that Charity Navigator would give a donor advisory to the groups just because a judge ordered that the list be provided, not that they were provided. The groups had planned on appealing this ruling before they settled, and frankly, I think they had a good chance of winning the appeal. But the very fact that a no longer existing possibility of an event is enough to trigger a donor advisory leaves me to wonder how many more innocent nonprofits will be labeled with a donor advisory just because someone sent in a newspaper article about the possibility of an event?

Kenneth Feld’s $825.00 an hour lead attorney, John Simpson, was recently interviewed for a legal publication. In it, he spoke about the donor list;

They didn’t want a situation where I’m taking the deposition of some donor asking — if you knew they were going to take this money to pay a witness, would you have given this donation?” Simpson said. “I don’t think they wanted that kind of discovery to take place. Some people might have made the donation anyway. But most of these people would have said — no, I wouldn’t have done that. And you would have been in the middle of their donor relations and potentially cutting off their donations in the future.”

In actuality, the one fund raiser that was at issue in the donor list request did specifically state that the money was for the lawsuit, and other requests for funds specifically stated the money was for Tom Rider’s media campaign. In addition, there is a legitimate concern about what would happen to individuals put into an intimidating situation by a high priced, DC powerhouse attorney. Mr. Simpson has a way of asking questions in depositions, and then subsequently paraphrasing the responses so that even the most innocent and naive utteranceseems dark, and dastardly. It was unfortunate that Judge Sullivan allowed his scarcely concealed disdain for Tom Rider to lead him to basically accept whatever Feld’s lawyers said, even though the animal welfare groups presented solid arguments in defense.

Lastly, Charity Navigator linked an article in the Washington Examiner, as if this was further evidence of good reasoning for the donor advisory. Might as well link Fox News as a character reference for the EPA, or The Daily Caller as a reasoned source of news for President Obama.

Just because something shows up in a publication online does not make what’s stated truth, or even reliable opinion. That a charity watch dog would link a publication known for its political and social bias, as some form of justification for a decision only undermines its own credibility. Yes, the HSUS and the FFA are involved in lawsuits with a couple of insurance companies regarding their liability coverage. As noted, though, it’s common for insurance companies to deny claims of liability when it comes to litigation fees. Kenneth Feld, himself, is involved in a lawsuit with his insurance company about it not wanting to pay those $825.00 an hour fees for Feld’s attorneys in the lawsuit with his sister.

However, there were several insurance companies involved with the groups and this court case. One way or another most, if not all, of the attorney fee settlement will be paid by one or more insurance companies.

An interesting side note about the insurance company lawsuits is the fact that the Humane Society’s lawsuit is being handled in federal court, while the Fund For Animals lawsuit is being managed in the Maryland state court system. This disproves one Feld Entertainment claim that HSUS and FFA are one organization (and hence, justifying Feld’s dragging HSUS into the lawsuit). The reason for the lawsuit split is that FFA is a Maryland corporation, while HSUS is not, and the insurance company was able to argue that it could move the HSUS case to the federal level because of jurisdictional diversity. Nothing more succinctly demonstrates that FFA and HSUS are not the same corporate organization. Yet HSUS has received a donor advisory for a lawsuit it was never involved in. FFA was involved in the ESA suit, but not HSUS.

There is so much to this case, too much to cover in a single writing, but I did want to touch on the major points given by Charity Navigator in its donor advisory. Will the advisory hurt an organization like HSUS? Unlikely. The Humane Society of the United States is one of the older, more established, and largest animal welfare organizations in the country. Its charity ratings to this point have been excellent. A reputable organization like the BBB lists it as an accredited charity, and one only has to do a quick search online to see that it is currently involved in many different animal welfare efforts across the country—from rescuing animals in North Carolina to defending American burros. If people donate or not to the organization it won’t be because of Charity Navigator’s listing, because most people wouldn’t need Charity Navigator to learn more about the HSUS.

But such donor advisories could negatively impact on lesser known, smaller charities. I hope that when Charity Navigator issues such a drastic warning from this day on, it does so based on a foundation that is a little less arbitrary, and much less capricious, than the one they used for HSUS and the other animal welfare groups involved in this court case.

Animal welfare groups settle with Feld Entertainment

Last update

I’ve had a day to get over the shock at the settlement amount.

All of the statements by the animal welfare folk I posted links to make logical sense. And believe it or not, once I got over the shock at the amount of the settlement, I wasn’t necessarily against a settlement in the ESA attorney fee battle—though, I believed it was important to continue the fight in the RICO case. What I had expected was a settlement closer to the amount given in the original animal welfare attorney fee reply—about five million.

This amount would have been a loss for the groups, yes, but it wouldn’t have been such a PR bonanza for Feld. The larger amount, though…that’s going to cut deep, and not just in a monetary sense.

Regardless of what I’ve said today, I am not mad at the groups. I am profoundly disappointed, which, in some ways, is worse.

This settlement has ramifications beyond just the animal welfare groups and the fight for circus elephants. Corporations have started using RICO as a weapon against nonprofits, and what the corporations now see is that nonprofits won’t even stay around to fight a RICO case when one is brought. No matter the “logic” or the legal arguments—and, most likely, the insurance company demands—the harmful consequences of this settlement will have a disturbing and lasting effect.

I have said I won’t finish my original book, and this is true. That book is dead. That book was based on a heroic battle against all odds. I guess, in a way, it was a book of fiction because in our courts and in our philosophical equivalencies, there is no room for heroes.

But I am still going to write something about these cases. I have so much of the history, have spent so much time in research and among court documents. I am going to write something—I’m just not sure what, and I’m not sure when.

second update

Other statements:

From firm of Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal the animal welfare attorneys in the original Endangered Species Act lawsuit.

From the Animal Welfare Institute.

From Wayne Pacelle, President of the Humane Society of the US.

update The Humane Society of the United State has issued a statement. No donor money is going to Feld, the insurance companies that provide liability insurance for the animal welfare groups are most likely paying the costs.

Does this statement make this settlement better?

No.

earlier After all the years following this court case, what I didn’t expect was for the animal welfare groups to basically capitulate to Feld Entertainment.

They agreed to a $15.7 million dollar settlement. Combined with the previous $9.3 million settlement by the ASPCA and Feld Entertainment actually made a profit on this court case.

And oh, how Feld is crowing about it today.

“After winning 14 years of litigation, Feld Entertainment has been vindicated. This case was a colossal abuse of the justice system in which the animal rights groups and their lawyers apparently believed the ends justified the means. It also marks the first time in U.S. history where a defendant in an Endangered Species Act case was found entitled to recover attorneys’ fees against the plaintiffs due to the Court’s finding of frivolous, vexatious and unreasonable litigation,” said Feld Entertainment’s legal counsel in this matter, John Simpson, a partner with Norton Rose Fulbright’s Washington, D.C., office. “The total settlement amounts represent recovery of 100 percent of the legal fees Feld Entertainment incurred in defending against the ESA lawsuit.”

Justice was not served in this case, or with this payment. It’s difficult to see how we can trust any of these animal welfare groups to stay the course with any new litigation or other effort after this settlement.

I had originally planned on writing about this case. I have close to three years of research into these two legal cases. Thousands of dollars of PACER fees, too.

But what good is telling the story when it ends with, “…and the animal welfare groups, tails between their legs, slunk off into the sunset”?

And what of the battle for the circus elephants? Though this settlement doesn’t change the facts—that the life for circus elephants is miserable—how can we continue this fight, when every time we open our mouths, this settlement will get shoved into our faces?

I guess we’ll see what the future holds. I do know, Justice was not served in this case.

Bitch

The intent was to finish my book on the Ringling Brothers animal welfare court cases by year-end. After all, the cases have settled down into an analysis of legal fees, and long, silent periods reflecting discovery, with a trial date a year or two (or three) into the future. Publish now, incorporate an epilog into the e-book when all is said and done, and I’ll have managed to write about an ongoing legal case and still keep readers updated.

Then I found out Tom Rider died, and everything has changed.

Who is Tom Rider? There are, in my opinion, four people pivotal to these court cases: Kenneth Feld, who is owner of Ringling Brothers circus; Judge Emmet Sullivan, who presided over both the Endangered Species Act (ESA) Case and the beginnings of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) case; John Simpson, Feld’s lead attorney, who decided after coming into the ESA case that the best defense was an aggressive offense; and Tom Rider, the only individual plaintiff in the ESA case. Not only was Tom the only individual plaintiff, but he was a key witness: a man who could testify from first-hand experience about how Ringling Brothers people treated the elephants.

Tom’s importance as both plaintiff and witness made him a big legal target in the court case; a rather daunting place to be for a man who never imagined he’d spend the last years of his life in a court fight over circus elephants.

Tom Rider was born in a small, rural town in Illinois. He wasn’t an especially ambitious man, dropping out of high school, and having his ups and downs in the military. He typically didn’t stay at any job for long. He hauled garbage, sold shoes, was a bouncer at a strip club, worked at Disneyworld for a time, got married, and divorced, and kicked around the country doing odd jobs. Eventually, he ended up as “barn man” for the Ringling Brothers circus.

A circus barn man is someone who helps feed the animals, give them their water, and shovel shit. With elephants, a lot of shit. But Tom stayed with the job two and a half years—longer than he stayed with most jobs. He liked working in the circus. He liked that he had his own little cubby hole of a place in the “Pie Car”, which was the train car that contained the circus kitchen. He liked the idea of working for the circus. After all, think about it: working for a circus. Now, how cool is that? If we’re defined by what we do, there are worse things than working for a circus.

Tom was a plain man, some would even say he was a crude man. He peppered his speech with less than polite terms, primarily watched knock ’em, sock ’em action movies, and liked junk food—especially Hostess confections like Snoballs and birch beer (a southern variation of root beer).

Tom also liked to talk and to tell stories. He liked to tell one story about his time at Ringling Brothers and his experience with one of the elephants, Karen.

Not all elephants react with docility to being dressed up in costumes and made to dance to rock and roll tunes. Some elephants, like *Karen, express their unhappiness in ways that can be detrimental to human beings. American circus history is littered with the dead and broken bodies of those people who have experienced elephant frustration, fear, and anger. Though Karen hasn’t yet left a trail of dead bodies in her wake, at Ringling Brothers she is treated with a great deal of caution.

The story Tom liked to tell about Karen was the time she trapped him in a bathroom when the circus was in Boston. Tom was in the bathroom cleaning it when Karen planted herself in front of the door so he couldn’t get out. Tom was stuck for 15 minutes, banging on the door, hollering for Karen to get her butt out of the way, until he got the idea to throw his broom through the door to distract Karen. It worked.

Once Tom was out, though, Karen started tossing hay and apples at Tom, peeved at his escape. I can just visualize that great big elephant, delicately grabbing an apple with her trunk, and lobbing it at Tom as he went about his work. When Tom recounted the story, he probably referred to Karen as a “bitch”, as in, “That bitch had me trapped in the bathroom for 15 minutes! And then she started tossing apples at me!”

When I told Roomie the story, he laughed. I laughed, it’s a funny story. But in the DC courts, an innocent story became a weapon in the hands of an aggressive legal defense.

Feld’s lawyer, John Simpson zeroed in on Tom’s use of “bitch”, because how could Tom care about the elephants and talk about Karen that way? To say she’s dangerous (she is); that she didn’t like him (she probably doesn’t like most Ringling employees), and especially—and this is the ultimate sin—to call her a bitch in his story if Tom truly cared for Karen?

From the trial, with Simpson cross-examining Tom:

Q. Do you recall making — that same film where you made a video of the bags of poop, do you recall also making a video of the elephant Karen?

A. Yes, I do.

Q. You called her a bitch, did you not?

A. Yes.

Q. It wasn’t in loving terms, was it?

A. It was not a derogatory term. I didn’t say, you know — I wouldn’t use rough language. I did call her — it’s like bitch, nice, it was — I was thinking of the time in Boston when it happened.

Q. So you called her a nice bitch, is that your testimony?

A. No, I called her a bitch.

Q. Well, let me refer you to that tape, sir, Defendant’s Exhibit 30, at counter 16:45 to 16:55.

(video played)

Q. So your testimony, sir, was that was a compliment you were giving the elephant?

A. Yes, I mean it was not a derogatory term. I called my daughter that.

Q. You call your daughters a bitch?

A. Oh, yeah.

Q. They don’t take offense to it?

A. No.

Judge Emmet Sullivan presided over the ESA case in the federal district court in DC.

Judge Sullivan is interesting in that he’s never lived outside of the Washington DC area. He was born in DC, grew up in DC (the son of a DC policeman), went to school at Howard University in DC, practiced law in DC, and is now a judge in a DC federal court room. This is a man who has had very limited experience of what passes for life outside of DC. He certainly has had very little experience with someone like Tom Rider: a largely uneducated circus roustabout from the midwest.

Judge Sullivan is also a rather impetuous man. He’s best known for his anger at the Department of Justice in the Senator Stevens’ trial, where he took the unprecedented move to open an investigation into the DoJ’s actions. Another time, he felt a police officer wasn’t telling the truth and walked off the bench—an act that led to a mistrial.

During the trial of a burglary suspect in the mid-1980s, Sullivan walked off the bench in disgust after a police officer gave conflicting testimony, said Roscoe Howard, a friend, and former federal prosecutor. After calming down, Sullivan declared a mistrial because he had prejudiced the case. A few days later, the judge reversed course and released the man.

All three traits that best exemplify Judge Sullivan—his noticeably narrow background, his strong, even at times, intolerant moral code, and his impetuousness—were present in the ESA trial. In particular, the judge had problems understanding Tom Rider, and his lack of understanding eventually tipped over into barely concealed disdain.

Before calling a recess after the questioning about Tom’s use of “bitch”, Sullivan questioned Tom directly about the term (something permissible and even encouraged in a bench trial):

THE COURT: But in your words you called her a bitch affectionately, and then you said like you would call your daughters, right?

THE WITNESS: Yes.

THE COURT: Help me understand all of that.

THE WITNESS: Well, it’s — you know, it’s like somebody — if I would have used the F-word prior to that, to me that would be a nasty way of saying it. But to just say the word bitch is — I mean, I’ve called my daughter that, and it’s like if she does something, I go bitch. It’s kind of a — it’s not the same as if you’re putting a derogatory or a four-letter or six-letter, whatever word in front of it. I’m just saying the word bitch. In other words, when I said that by the train I was thinking of the incident where she blocked me in the toilet for 15 minutes and I couldn’t get her out. That’s what was in my mind, and I just calmly said bitch. It was not — I wasn’t mad at her or something like that where — that’s a difference in the terminology that I would use. But yeah, I’ve called all my daughters that. Just out of affection, it’s not a derogatory.

THE COURT: All right. On that note, we’ll take a 15-minute recess. We’ll start back at 2:45

Later, when Katherine Meyer, a lawyer for the animal welfare groups, was questioning Tom, the Judge again returned to Tom’s use of the word, “bitch”:

THE COURT: You were just teasing the elephant by calling her that name?

THE WITNESS: Yes, sir.

THE COURT: Hardly a term of endearment, though, is it?

THE WITNESS: Not — I guess it’s not — I just — I do it to my daughters, you know, I do it to her. It’s like —

THE COURT: You call your daughters that?

THE WITNESS: I don’t do it as like — it’s just, you know, when you’re — you know, she’s — like my daughter does something that’s, you know, I don’t want to nag and yell and scream at her. It’s like, you know — especially if she starts nagging at me or something. It’s like a term of endearment to me. I don’t know how to other to put it.

THE COURT: I think you said it all.

THE WITNESS: Yeah. Yes.

Said it all, indeed. Tom Rider’s use of “bitch” would return again, and again, and again—in Feld’s lawyers’ documents, defended in the animal welfare group’s own documents, and in Judge Sullivan’s decisions. In essence, if anyone act lost the ESA case for the animal welfare groups, it was Tom’s use of the word “bitch”.

Yet, how wrong was his use of the world? Living in Missouri, as I do, not all that far from Tom’s hometown in Illinois, how he used the word “bitch” isn’t all that uncommon here, and the use of “bitch” as a joking reference to friends and family member is a frequent happening in modern parlance. There was far too much attention paid to Tom’s use of the word, “bitch”. Far too much.

Tom never had much of a chance in the DC courts. Toss an unsophisticated man who tends to be garrulous, into an intimidating courtroom environment filled with high-priced lawyers from prestigious law firms, in a city as far away in temperament and personality as rural Illinois is from DC, and you have an adversarial lawyer’s dream come true. The combination worked for Feld in the ESA case, and I imagine Feld’s attorneys expected the same success during the trial in the RICO case.

But then Tom died, and everything has changed.

It’s difficult to trip up a dead man in court, even more difficult to speak ill of a dead man no longer around to defend himself. The RICO case won’t be a bench trial, it will be in front of a jury, and we can expect that not all of jury members will have problems with the use of a word like “bitch”.

The last few months since Tom died we’ve seen a blizzard of courtroom filings, including a monstrously large motion for legal fees from Feld demanding 25 million dollars from the animal welfare groups (and their lawyers) for the ESA case. The amount is more than what all of the animal welfare groups—The Fund for Animals, Animal Welfare Institute, and Born Free USA—have in combined assets, so now Feld is attempting to bring the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) into the ESA case. This, after the case has already been decided, with the HSUS not participating in the case or the trial—participation that may, for all we know, have altered the outcome of the case. The reason Feld gives for pulling in the HSUS at this very late date is that the HSUS has formed a de facto merger because of a contractual relationship with one of the animal welfare groups in the ESA case, the Fund for Animals. However, the concept of a de factor merger is basically foreign to nonprofits, and the groups still exist as separate legal entities.

But let’s be upfront about the real reason for pulling in HSUS, shall we? The HSUS has economic reserves the Feld lawyers would just love to tap.

(Feld also included HSUS in the RICO lawsuit, which I’ll have more to talk about a little later.)

The attorney fee request is breathtaking, dragging in HSUS after all the decisions have been made seems blatantly unfair (and more than a little screwy), but the most recent, and alarming, motion happened in the RICO case. The animal welfare groups filed for a protective order because Feld’s lawyers are demanding lists of private donor names and contact information. Why the demand? Because Feld’s RICO case is fragile, at best, and the only way it can possibly proceed is if Feld Entertainment works to establish that it is not the only entity defrauded by the nefarious and dastardly animal welfare groups; that those who donated for the fight to free circus elephants are also victims.

(With an implication in earlier filings that if the donors weren’t victims, they must then be co-conspirators.)

The request is extraordinary and chilling, as reflected in the motion for the protective order:

Should FEI [Feld Entertainment Inc.] gain access to confidential donor information, both current and future donors would see their protected political conduct chilled by the fear of financial burden and reprisal. This fear would be particularly well founded in light of FEI’s history of harassment and retaliation against individuals and organizations that seek to remedy animal mistreatment. The chilling effect on the donors on whom the Nonprofit Organizations depend for their continued existence would also irreparably harm the Nonprofit Organizations, along with other animal welfare and animal rights organizations that depend on the same donors for support. FEI’s “donor fraud” argument is unprecedented: a Court ruling that an adversary of a nonprofit advocacy organization may obtain that organization’s donor information merely by alleging that the organization misled its donors would set a disastrous precedent that would alter the legal landscape for all nonprofit and advocacy organizations.

Feld’s lawyers are not stupid people. They know that they’ll have a fight on their hands by asking the courts to set aside the Constitution in allowing their request. They had implied in earlier hearings they would not do so, so what has changed to make them so desperate?

Tom Rider died. Their own warped version of “Mr. Smith goes to Washington” they have become dependent on has ended before it began.

As it stands today, decisions I expected to be years in the future could be happening in the next few months, and both the ESA and the RICO cases might soon be over. My Ringling Brothers book is on hold as I wait for new developments. Unlike in the past, where I rarely talked about the case at my site, I’ll be providing frequent updates on what’s happening with court cases—the RICO case, in particular, since it can have such serious ramifications for animal welfare and environmental groups. The animal welfare groups can’t discuss the case because if they do, it ends up featured prominently in a Feld filing demanding yet more control over the release of information about the case.

The animal welfare groups and associated lawyers couldn’t even briefly issue a note about Tom’s death. I found out about it from a court filing that stated simply, “Pursuant to F.R.C.P. 25(a) notice is hereby served of the death of Defendant Tom Rider on October 1, 2013.”

A hell of a way to find out that one of the primary people in your story is dead. Rest in peace, Tom. Rest in peace, you goodhearted bastard, you.

* One major reason for Karen’s temperament could be chronic pain.