Sunday, February 17, 2013

Ringling Bros. wins federal case filed by two longtime Bay Area animal rights activists

Patrick May
Mercury News

Chalk up one for the elephant handlers.

After two longtime Bay Area animal rights activists sued Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for allegedly harassing them as they tried to videotape the backstage treatment of animals, the federal jury hearing the case began deliberations in San Jose on Valentine's Day afternoon. And it was soon clear that the jurors didn't buy what activists Deniz Bolbol and Joseph Patrick Cuviello were selling.
"The jury went out at 2:47 p.m.,'' Ringling's attorney, Ruby Kazi, said Saturday. "And when they came back at 4:05 p.m., their decision was completely unanimous. It was very clear to the jurors that the plaintiffs were just trying to drum up a lawsuit.''

In the suit, filed in 2011, the plaintiffs had argued that Ringling employees had pointed lasers at their video cameras and tried to interfere with their filming by using ropes and water blasts.
"This is just the latest in a long series of cases that Pat and I have been forced to bring because of Ringling's attempts to stop us from documenting the abuse of their animals,'' Bolbol said Saturday after she and Cuviello lost their case in U.S. District Court in San Jose.
Referring to videos on the website for their group, Humanity Through Education, in which elephants handlers are shown beating the pachyderms to keep them in line, Bolbol said that "we've been gathering this evidence for 10 years now, but Ringling manages to convince the public that they're doing things differently now -- that those practices were in the past. So we have to have current evidence that it's still going on, which is why we filed this suit. Without our freedom of speech upheld, we can't go on to the next step.''

The crux of the court case was whether the circus, through its employees, had taken actions to "intentionally interfere with Plaintiffs' free speech rights for the purpose of chilling plaintiffs in the exercise of their constitutionally protected rights,'' as the activists had claimed in their complaint.
"Every year,'' their attorney wrote, "the Circus has used many different tactics to harass and interfere with Plaintiffs and other activists while they are attempting to videotape the Circus' treatment of the animals, including spraying Plaintiffs with fire hoses, shining laser pointers into Plaintiffs' eyes and cameras lenses and tangling Plaintiffs up with a rope.''

Kazi called that nonsense. She said the plaintiffs had stood outside a 7-foot wall beside the loading dock in back of HP Pavilion in August 2010, hoisting their cameras on monopods above the wall to peek into a private area where circus performers and animals spend time between shows. Then the trouble began.
"A handful of the circus employees directed laser pointers at the cameras,'' Kazi said. "The employees felt like this was their private space, not a public area, and they told the activists 'You can't do this.'
"This is where they hang out and take their smoke breaks and relax, and they felt that pointing the lasers at the cameras was harmless fun,'' Kazi said. "One guy described it as being like duck hunting. They'd point the laser at one camera, which would drop down behind the wall, and another camera would pop up.''

Bolbol and Cuviello considered it harassment, a way for the circus to shut down what the activists considered was a perfectly legal campaign to gather evidence of wrongdoing. And even though the jury didn't agree with them, the activists vow to press on.
"We're not doing anything illegal out there,'' Bolbol said. "So until a court tells us that we can't videotape over that wall, we'll go back and do it again.''

'While I am not much for high fiving, whooping and back slapping(mainly because I as still trying to figure out how we got in such a deep hole in the first place) this court victory, although small, is a win nonetheless and the second in about a month.  Interesting in both case's are the comment's posted.  Surprisingly, many seem to be "pro circus/animals."  Many more positive comments then you would have seen 5 years ago or more.'

Dwight T Mensinger · Top Commenter · San Jose, California

If the jurors were unanimous in their decision that these 2 activists were simply filing lawsuits as a form of legal harassment, than I hope the 2 activists will also be held responsible for the cost of legal counsel for Ringling Bros. as well as court costs.
  • Shelley Powers · Top Commenter
    Doesn't work that way. They had a right to file the lawsuit, and the jury didn't agree with them. That's the way our legal system works.
  • Candace Ware · · Top Commenter
    Shelley Powers It most certainly DOES work that way! The harassed parties get settlements from the filers of frivolous lawsuits frequently. I hope Ringling nails these two melon-heads to the WALL, and cleans their fiscal clocks. YAY for the circus!
  • Jeffrey Novick · Top Commenter · Scottsdale, Arizona
    Shelley Powers So in your world I can sue you every few months for no reason just to piss you off and make you go broke with attorneys fee's and you have no choice to suck it up unless you settle with me and pay me off.
  • Shelley Powers · Top Commenter
    You have to prove that the lawsuit was frivolous, and whether they won or lost, the plaintiffs did not file this lawsuit frivolously.

    Of course, if Ringling isn't mistreating their animals, then they wouldn't have any concern about people like these activists filming their actions, would they?

    But to put up privacy walls, turn the fire hose on them, shine laser lights into their cameras, well, my goodness, Ringling Brothers must have a _lot_ to hide. 
    • However, the jury didn't believe that the Feld Entertainment committed acts of violence, or that Feld Entertainment intentionally threatened the plaintiffs.
    • Shelley Powers · Top Commenter
      Jeffrey Novick You can try, but any suit will be dismissed if you can't immediately show cause.

      Remember, this lawsuit did satisfy the legal system enough to make it to court pass Feld's earlier wish to dismiss it. They did show cause.
    • Jeffrey Novick · Top Commenter · Scottsdale, Arizona
      Shelley Powers All I have to say is that you damaged my repetition and I want you to pay 10k for it. Now I get 20 of my friends to sue you for the same reason how is that going to impact your life. 20 days in court, 20 days missing work and then when those are tossed we do it again, ever month for a year. What's that going to cost you because you have to show up at court to contest our complaint. Oh, and have you watched Judge Judy, all those would have been in court and 3/4 are even more of a joke than this.
    • Shelley Powers · Top Commenter
      Does not work that way. But then, I don't watch Judge Judy, so I don't know the standard of law that forms the basis for your comments.

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