Lawyers who signed up nearly 1,000 North Carolina residents to sue Smithfield Foods and its subsidiary Murphy-Brown over foul smell and pollution from farms acted unethically in doing so, companies claim
WILMINGTON, North Carolina
September 24, 2013
– Smithfield Foods and its subsidiary Murphy-Brown have responded to the nearly 1,000 Eastern North Carolina residents that have sued or planned to sue the companies and other individual farmers over foul smell and pollution from farms, saying the lawyers that have signed them up for the challenge acted unethically in doing so.
Mark Anderson, trial counsel for Smithfield Foods and Murphy Brown LLC, called it a "serious matter related to ethics which is of great concern to the individual farmers as well as my clients."
He declined further comment, saying, "Given that the matter is now before the court, I don't feel that further comment would be appropriate at this time."
The out-of-state plaintiffs' attorneys, the Middleton Law Firm LLC, of Savannah, Ga., and the Speer Law Firm, P.A., of Kansas City, Mo., could not be reached for comment despite repeated attempts. The listed attorneys are affiliated with the group called the Center to Expose and Close Factory Farms. The lawsuits claim stench and pollution have robbed residents of their ability to fully enjoy their properties.
The motion filed in the Wake County Superior Court by Smithfield Foods, the world's largest pork producer, claims the plaintiffs' lawyers inappropriately shopped for clients, signed up deceased clients, and are using unethical contracts with clients that penalize residents who decide to drop out of the lawsuit.
"The actions of these lawyers place their own personal financial interests ahead of the rights and best interests of North Carolina citizens," the motion reads.
The Smithfield motion claims that the Middleton and Speer law firms acted in violation of North Carolina law by engaging in "direct solicitation of clients at convenience stores, through door-to-door campaigns, at churches and other locations."
The affidavits include that of Patricia Stephens of Bladen County. She claims a man who identified himself as being with the Middleton Law Firm approached her at her residence in Clarkton as she was reading on her porch.
"The man indicated that the lawsuit could result in a substantial monetary award based on the number of people signed up with him," the motion reads. "Ms. Stephens makes clear that she did not have any issues related to the hog farms and never indicated to anyone that she needed a lawyer related to these claims."
Deborah Johnson, chief executive officer of the N.C. Pork Council, said it is "alarming to see farmers who work hard every day to comply with regulations and laws operating their farms be targeted with actions like this."
The lawsuits, she said, threaten not only farmers' livelihoods, but also that of future generations who may want to continue their family's tradition of farming.
"I certainly think all of us in agriculture, and all of us dependent on agriculture to support our communities, need to be concerned about how all of this develops."
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