David Cassuto (x-post from Animal Blawg)

There’s a story about a Canadian farmer who won a $100 million tax-free, lump sum payment in the Canadian lottery.  When asked what he would do with the money, he replied “I guess I’ll just keep farming until the money’s gone.”

Now let’s talk about animal law.

Asian elephants are endangered.  Elephants in circuses are brutally mistreated.  In 2000, a lawsuit was brought under the Endangered Species Act, claiming that the elephants’ treatment by Feld Entertainment (parent of Ringling Brothers) violated the “No Take” provision of the ESA and should be enjoined.  In late 2009, following a lengthy litigation a judge threw out the case after deciding that the former circus worker who was the lead plaintiff in the case lacked credibility and was paid for his testimony and that there was therefore no standing for the plaintiffs to sue.  The decision was a travesty on many levels (some of which I’ve blogged about elsewhere).  Perhaps most disturbing was the fact that the treatment of the elephants became wholly ancillary to a ridiculous debate about people. 

Now things have gotten even worse.  Feld has won a ruling seeking attorneys fees from the animal advocacy groups who sued.  Feld claims those fees approach $20 million.  Among those responsible are several members of the legal team that represented the advocacy groups, including the public interest/animal law firm of Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal.

There is nothing here that is good.  The court’s failure to reach the merits of the case essentially granted Feld and similar operations a license to continue mistreating animals.  Now, the same judge has penalized those who brought the case, basing his ruling on a deeply flawed assessment of their motives and actions.

I have followed this case for years.  In my opinion, it was rock solid and ethically prosecuted.  I also know personally a number of the lawyers who litigated it.  They are outstanding attorneys.  Both of these rulings dishonor the legal system.

These are bad times indeed for animals and for those of us who care about them.  Henceforth, when students ask me whether they should go into animal law, I’m going to answer that they should by all means do it — until the money’s gone.