More Details on Jacques Ferber Inc.'s RICO Lawsuit Against Animal Rights Organization

Fur Commission USA, which represents
over 400 fur farms, recently issued a press release on the Jacques Ferber Inc. lawsuit against the Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade, the Animal Defense League, and Vegan Resistance for Liberation. Under the civil provisions
of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), Ferber
alleges that these three groups as well as four named individuals engaged
in a series of acts that amounted to a criminal conspiracy to
interfere with a legitimate business enterprise.

As I’ve mentioned before,
RICO was originally meant to help prosecutors go after legitimate businesses
that were used as fronts by organized crime, but it is the civil provision
of the act that has gained the most notoriety. Pro-choice groups recently
won big victories in two separate civil cases against pro-life groups
and individuals that advocated or approved of illegal acts against abortion
clinics, but did not actually participate in such illegal acts. Juries
in those cases agreed with the plaintiffs that even though the defendants
did not commit illegal acts, by their advocacy of illegal acts they were
part of a conspiracy that did commit such acts and as such could be held
liable for the illegal acts.

The Fur Commission USA release
noted that since 1995 Ferber was subjected to almost weekly protests by
animal rights groups and on April 24, 1999, “vandals wearing hoods
smashed the store window.” Ferber argues that the three animal rights
groups and the four individuals named in the suit engaged in a pattern
of harassment intended to intimidate the company and ultimately force
it out of business. The Supreme Court ruled in 1994 that juries should
be allowed to decide whether or not this sort of activity constitutes
extortion.

Ferber might have an even
stronger case than did the pro-choice groups if Fur Commission USA’s information
is accurate. It quotes one of the activists named in the suit, Brett Wyker,
but in a footnote at the end of its release claimed:

In January [1999], Wyker e-mailed FCUSA’s Terry Platt: “hey,
what did oyu [sic] think of the Fur Farmers convention in WI? FUR IS DEAD
AND YOU’LL BE SOON!”

The convention in question
was the International Mink Show in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where several
masked animal rights activists tried to gain entrance to the show. According
to Fur Commission USA, among those activists was Gary Yourofsky, an activist
recently jailed in Michigan for releasing mink from a farm there, and
CAFT’s John Paul Goodwin.

These sort of links between
those who commit illegal acts and nominally nonviolent groups and individuals
is exactly the sort of evidence that led to the pro-choice plaintiffs
to win their cases. Lawyers in those cases produced evidence showing
all sorts of connections between the allegedly nonviolent activists pro-live
activists who did commit crimes and told the jury that it
was absurd to claim that the two were not part of an organized, illegal
attempt to shut down a legitimate business.

Ferber’s lawsuit is apparently
at a standstill while lawyers try to find and serve the four individuals
named in the lawsuit, but once that is taken care of this will be an interesting
test case of the RICO statute. If it can prevail it could be the beginning
of the end of common practices used by groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and others (in much the same way that pro-life groups
have had to radically alter their tactics in the last decade). On the
other hand, since animal rights issues have a far lower profile than abortion
issues, this case might not receive nearly the same treatment as the case
against the pro-life groups did, and could potentially lead to another
round of judicial review of the RICO statute.

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