Trial Continues Against Delmarva Family Farm - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Trial Continues Against Delmarva Family Farm

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(Photo: WBOC) (Photo: WBOC)

BALTIMORE- It is a case taking Delmarva by storm, and now playing out in a Baltimore courtroom. On day two of the Hudson farm trial, a key player in this legal battle took the stand. Kathy Phillips, known as the woman who "started it all," when she flew over the Hudson's Worcester County farm, was called to the witness stand by the Waterkeeper Alliance and hit with fiery cross-examination from the defendants.

Phillips, executive director for Assateague Coastal Trust, a member organization of the Waterkeeper Alliance, was asked to explain her background and training in relation to collecting water samples. She also explained her great love for the Pocomoke River, and concerns about pollution impacting the impaired water body.

Phillips testified to the samples she said she took from a ditch draining from the Hudson's farm, in which she observed water running off the property and into pipes that ultimately reach the Pocomoke River. Lawyers for the Waterkeeper Alliance presented into evidence lab results from those samples, dating back to Oct. 30, 2009, as well as photographs taken by Phillips of the ditch at the time the samples were taken.

The Waterkeeper Alliance contends those lab results show "off the charts" levels of pollution coming off the Hudson property.

The samples and lawsuit were preceded by a flyover of the Hudson farm on Oct. 20,2009, during which Phillips was present, and observed what she claimed was a pile of uncovered chicken manure. As it turns out, the pile was not chicken waste, but sludge the Hudson's had volunteered to store.

That fact was not missed during cross examination.

Lawyers for Perdue, the company for whom the Hudson's raised chickens, accuse the Waterkeeper Alliance of declaring an "all out offensive" on Eastern Shore agriculture, especially the poultry industry, prior to the filing of this lawsuit. The defendants asked Phillips during cross-examination if she went up to conduct surveillance that day specifically looking for chicken manure piled in fields close to ditches.

Phillips said that was the case.

Perdue's lawyers then hammered Phillips on the fact that she jumped to the conclusion the pile she had seen was chicken manure, and never retracted the fact that it turned out it was not.

"I saw a pile of what looked to be chicken manure, because it was close to two large chicken houses," Phillips said in court Wednesday.

Phillips was also questioned regarding the fact that she did not report what she observed to the Maryland Department of the Environment or Environmental Protection Agency prior to filing the Notice of Intent against the Hudson's and Perdue.

Testimony resumes Thursday at 9:30 a.m., with the plaintiffs expected to call several witnesses, including Jeff Smith, Perdue's Director of Corporate Environmental Services; Ian Spotts and Kathleen Bassett of MDE and Todd Lekites, Growout Manager for Perdue.

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From Tuesday:

BALTIMORE- There is a lot at stake inside a Baltimore courtroom. The lawsuit against the Hudson family of Worcester County and Perdue Farms got under way Tuesday in a federal court.

It all started in 2009, when Alan and Kristin Hudson's life on the farm was thrown upside down. They found themselves in the middle of a big legal battle with an environmental group called the Waterkeeper Alliance. It has grown into a battle that could have major implications for farmers here on Delmarva and across the country.

The Hudson's are accused of violating the Clean Water Act with excessive pollution from their chicken operation. Tuesday morning, those accusations brought them to court. But before opening statements even started, the judge heard a series of motions and stipulations for about two hours. Both sides then set the stage for what looks to be a long few weeks for all parties involved.

Outside the courthouse Tuesday, a group of demonstrators gathered, bemoaning what they call Perdue's unjust treatment of farmers and environmental effects of factory farm runoff.

"We believe that this case is of national importance because the poultry integrators must be held responsible for the waste that's generated through their operations," remarked Wenonah Hauter of Food & Water Watch.

Inside, the anticipated beginning of the end in a long, drawn-out legal battle commenced, between the Hudson family and Perdue, and the environmental group, Waterkeeper Alliance.

Opening statements began with representatives of the Waterkeeper Alliance accusing the Hudson's of serious violations of the Clean Water Act, presenting a series of photographs as they illustrated those claims. That was followed up with lawyers for the Hudson's, arguing this 4th generation farming family has done nothing wrong.

The plaintiffs referred to the case as a "big puzzle," with their job to put together the pieces of alleged violations dating back to 2009. Lawyers for the Waterkeeper Alliance cited samples taken from the Hudson property, indicating "off the charts" levels of bacteria and nutrients below the farm's chicken houses.

Then, the defendants told the story of the Hudson family, before initiating the dispute of Clean Water Act violations on their farm. Perdue argues this is simply a case of a group exploiting a Delmarva farming family in an attack against the poultry industry.

"The case has really never been about pollution but about an extreme activist's groups opposition to modern agriculture and their publicly stated, hard-nosed litigation tactics to achieve it," noted Perdue spokesperson Julie DeYoung.

The Hudson farm trial resumes Tuesday morning in Baltimore.

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From Monday:

BALTIMORE- Legal analysts say the case filed against the Hudson family's Worcester County farm on behalf of the Waterkeeper Alliance could be historic, and could change the poultry industry on Delmarva forever. The case heads to trial Tuesday.

Representatives for the Hudson family and Perdue, and the Waterkeeper Alliance last came together last spring, but nothing came of it. Now, with hopes for a settlement off the table, the two sides will meet again Tuesday in a Baltimore courtroom.

The two-and-a-half year legal battle centers around Alan and Kristin Hudson's family farm in Berlin. The Waterkeeper Alliance accuses the family and Perdue Farms of violating the Clean Water Act. 

In the end, no kind of agreement could be reached. As Tom Jones of Assateague Coastal Trust said Monday, this fight was simply too complicated.

"These are difficult issues and they're very far-reaching and to ask one side or the other, within a case like this, to solve this problem, which is a big, societal problem; how to deal with manure, that's unrealistic," he explained. "It has to have a much broader conversation and many more people involved to solve these problems."

While Jones said his side is hoping for a victory, in the name of protecting Eastern Shore waterways, the Hudsons and Perdue remain confident in their arguments.

Perdue told WBOC the precedent of an environmental group going after family farmers is "dangerous."

"In this case, it was originally based on supposed pile of poultry litter. It was not poultry litter, and yet the case didn't end," explained spokesperson Julie DeYoung. "So, the doggedness of the environmental group to prosecute someone, I think is really what's dangerous and we look to hopefully put this to rest with a successful outcome with this lawsuit."

The historic trial begins at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in a federal courtroom in Baltimore. It will be a bench trial, meaning a jury will not be present.

The trial itself is expected to last two weeks, although the judge's decision could take months to be rendered.

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