Fur Industry Challenges Civil
by Ted Passon
PHILADELPHIA - In a landmark civil liberties case, Jacques Ferber Furs in Philadelphia has filed a lawsuit against three animal rights groups, and four activists, claiming that they are involved in an organized racketeering effort. The activists named in the suit are Darius Fuller and Brett Wyker of the Animal Defense League (otherwise known as Vegan Resistance for Liberation), and Joseph W. Bateman and Julia Wilcyznski of the Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade (CAFT).
Ferber's lawyer, Bruce Rodgers, is citing the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which was created in 1970 to halt the uprising of mob related activities. To be prosecuted under RICO, the plaintiff must not only prove that the defendant has committed racketeering crimes against them, but that they have demonstrated a long-standing pattern of these crimes. The use of the Act makes this a federal case and should it be successful, would guarantee Ferber's three times the value of the damages done to them plus litigation expenses. Right now they are claiming damages of up to $50,000.
Ferber's has charged the group on twelve counts starting in 1996 with red paint being thrown through Ferber's mail slot. Shortly after, the locks on the store were glued shut, and later that year the display window was etched. One year later it was etched again along with the window on the door.
The largest offense occurred on April 24, 1999 during the Millions for Mumia March, when individuals wearing black masks smashed the display window with a large rock. When the window was replaced the next day it was etched with acid and paint was thrown onto the store. However, the ALF has since claimed responsibility for all of these charges except for the broken window, which could have easily been broken by any out of town individual who came to the city for the long anticipated Mumia rally.
CAFT executive director, John P. Goodwin has condemned the suit but says that he's been expecting such a tactic since its successful use against anti-abortion activists last year. G. Robert Blakely, Notre Dame law professor and RICO's chief architect, also opposes the case. He says that the law was intended for groups who profit financially from their actions, not advocacy groups. It appears, though, that this case may be the beginning of a planned offensive by the fur industry.
A month after the suit in Philadelphia was filed, Woodbridge Furs and Red Bank Furs joined forces with Jim Guarino of Guarino Furs to file a similar suit against the New Jersey Animal Defense League, the New Jersey Animal Liberation Front, and several activists. Activists charged in the suit include Joe Bateman and Darius Fuller, who are also named in the Philadelphia RICO suit.
It is speculated that the Fur Information Council of America (of which Ruth Ferber is the acting president and former treasurer) is funding both lawsuits. The fur industry newsletter Sandy Parker Reports previously mentioned a campaign to prove activist involvement in organized racketeering and to raise at least $150,000 in order to sue demonstrators under the Hobbs Act. The industry has since denied this.
However it does not appear that the
Philadelphia suit will be very successful. The judge recently convinced Rodgers
to allow the case to be put on civil suspension. CAFT continues to protest in
front of the store, but Ferber's holds a stipulation by which they cannot commit
or encourage disorderly conduct, or talk to the any of the store's employees.
The case will be re-examined in six months. If there are no more incidents after
a year, the case will be dropped.