February 16, 2005: In an unusual episode
in the longstanding 'ranchers vs. environmentalists'
drama, a jury awarded Arizona rancher and investment
banker Jim Chilton $600,000 in actual and punitive damages
to be paid by the Tucson-based Center for Biological
The non-profit environmental group, which since its
founding in 1989 has made its reputation by filing lawsuits
on behalf of endangered species, in July 2002 posted
photos on its website allegedly depicting environmental
damage caused by Chilton's cattle on a 21,5000-acre
Forest Service allotment northwest of Nogales, Arizona.
The center posted the photos as part of a campaign to
bar renewal of Chilton's Forest Service grazing permit.
Chilton, a fifth generation rancher, sued the group
for libel, charging that photos and captions willfully
misrepresented his ranching practices.
The center's lawyer argued that the photos and other
material represented the environmental group's opinions,
and thus that they should be protected by the First
Amendment right to free speech. Kieran Suckling, the
center's director, was quoted as saying, "We did
things with the best of intentions. If there were some
mistakes, they were honest mistakes."
After two-weeks of testimony, 21 witnesses and more
than 100 exhibits the jury, in a 9-1 decision, ruled
the claims made about Chilton were indeed, “false,
unfair, libelous and defamatory.” Chilton promised
that after paying for his legal expenses and reimbursing
himself for costs he would donate the remainder of the
award to the Arizona Cattle Growers' Association.
Read the full story at: http://mobile.azstarnet.com/sn/pda/58068.html