What this means: The six things you need to know
1. RICO has become a weapon to silence groups advocating for animals, even when they are exercising their rights to constitutionally protected protests and speech.
When Congress enacted RICO in 1970 , it was meant to stop the growth of organized crime. Since 1997, when Huntingdon Life Sciences used the Act to sue PETA for exposing the cruel practices it used in animal testing, corporations have used RICO as a weapon to stop activists.
2. Bringing suit on behalf of the elephants under the Endangered Species Act was a long shot, but existing welfare laws are notoriously weak and poorly enforced.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversees the welfare of wild animals in captivity under the Animal Welfare Act. In a June 2010 audit, the USDA said it had 97 animal care inspectors "who performed over 4,300 inspections of more than 2,700 exhibitors."
You do the math.
Even when advocates gather extensive proof of abuse, there's no guarantee the USDA will act. And when it does act, its fines tend to be a slap on the violator's wrist. The largest fine it ever assessed -- $270,000 against FEI in 2011 -- was chump change for a corporation that brings in more than $1 billion a year.
3. Current laws make it extremely difficult to establish standing in court cases brought on behalf of animals.
Judge Sullivan's decision on Tom Rider's standing illustrates the difficulty perfectly:
- If the individual complains about the abuse, he'll be fired.
- If he stays (the only way to gather evidence) but doesn't complain, it proves he doesn't really care about the animals.
In other words, you're damned if you stay and damned if you go.
4. The judge never ruled on the merits of the case.
Judge Sullivan states in his decision to award attorney's fees to Feld, "FEI did not win this case based on any findings regarding the treatment of its elephants. Rather, the court never reached that issue because it found that plaintiffs lacked standing to sue."
FEI's lawyers knew they could derail the lawsuit if they effectively undermined Rider's credibility in the eyes of Judge Sullivan, and it worked.
But attorney Katharine Meyer's 2012 declaration provides compelling proof of Rider's veracity as well as the fact that there was no cover-up of the payments to Rider (page 32).