- 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.
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
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.
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.