Judge scolds attorneys in Okla. poultry case

AP News
Posted: Nov 19, 2009 2:43 PM

A federal judge scolded the 30-some attorneys on Oklahoma's pollution case against the Arkansas poultry industry Thursday, accusing them of bombarding him with "thousands" of documents as the bench trial dragged into its 25th day.

"You wouldn't do this to a jury," said U.S. District Judge Gregory K. Frizzell, who accused the attorneys of trying to have the documents admitted in order to prepare the case for an appeal. "You do this to a judge."

Frizzell later candidly admitted that he didn't know how he was going to rule on the case, which accuses 11 poultry companies of polluting a sensitive watershed with tons of bird manure.

The companies say the waste belongs to their contract growers, and accuse Oklahoma of tailoring science to fit its 2005 lawsuit.

"I don't know how I'm going to come down on this thing," he said.

Frizzell's rebuke was a sign his patience was quickly fraying as the two-month-old trial is almost guaranteed to run through January.

"I wish we had a jury," the judge said.

He instructed each side to avoid "extremist" opinions when the attorneys compile their final proposals of findings and conclusions _ briefs submitted to the court after both sides have presented their cases.

"This is a court of law," the judge cautioned. "Be reasonable; don't be zealots."

Thursday's incident wasn't the first time Frizzell lost his cool during the trial, which has been mired by delays and squabbles among attorneys.

Last month, a scowling Frizzell halted testimony for at least 10 minutes while he addressed the attorneys at the bench, engaging in what appeared to be a heated conversation.

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This week, the trial featured a scientist who testified as an expert witness for the state, saying runoff from fields spread with poultry manure accounted for a major portion of phosphorus pollution in the Illinois River watershed.

But the poultry companies who do business there argued Wednesday that the expert, geochemist Roger Olsen, overlooked nearly 20 other possible sources of pollution, such as coal-fired power plants, urban runoff and cattle operations.

The defendants named in the lawsuit are Tyson Foods Inc., Tyson Poultry Inc., Tyson Chicken Inc., Cargill Inc., Cal-Maine Foods, Inc., George's Inc., Cobb-Vantress Inc., Cargill Turkey Production L.L.C., George's Farms Inc., Peterson Farms Inc. and Simmons Foods Inc.

The trial is scheduled to resume Monday.