The Elephant in the Courtroom The Big Top beats an abusive lawsuit by the ASPCA.

The Elephant in the Courtroom

The Big Top beats an abusive lawsuit by the ASPCA.

Don’t worry, kids. Elephants are staying in the circus. And the animal-rights activists who tried to drive them out are paying a price for their abusive litigation. On Friday Feld Entertainment, producer of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, announced a legal settlement under which the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has paid $9.3 million to the company.

Yes, you read that correctly. A special-interest group sued a corporation and in the resulting settlement it was not the business but the activist group that had to write a check. The case is an example of how the ASPCA has become increasingly politicized and much different from the nice outfit that looks out for the well-being of homeless and lovable dogs and cats.

Twelve years ago the ASPCA and other activist outfits joined with a former Ringling employee to sue the company under the Endangered Species Act. The claim was that Ringling was abusing Asian elephants. Perhaps the activists figured the circus would fold up its big top and write a check.

Not on Chairman and CEO Kenneth Feld’s watch. He’s been working in the family business since 1970 and tells us that he’s “proud of our animal care and I’ll put it up against anyone in the world.”

After nine years of litigation, a federal court found that the plaintiffs had no standing to sue under the Endangered Species Act and that the former Ringling employee was “not credible” and “essentially a paid plaintiff and fact witness” whose only source of income during the litigation was the animal-rights groups that were his co-plaintiffs.

Mr. Feld says the $9.3 million payment from the ASPCA represents less than half of what his company has had to spend defending itself against the “manufactured litigation” from the activists. But he seems likely to recover more. His company is continuing its litigation against the Humane Society of the United States, the Fund for Animals, the Animal Welfare Institute, the Animal Protection Institute United with Born Free USA, the former employee and the lawyers who prosecuted the bogus case.

“This goes way beyond economics,” says Mr. Feld. He adds that the “level of harassment” that his elephant trainers undergo from activists is almost “unbearable” and that “the activists are trying to bring down an American institution.” The longtime Ringling boss argues that he is the trustee of a tradition “older than baseball” that offers a vanishing commodity for American families: affordable G-rated entertainment.

Mr. Feld’s legal victories ensure that the Ringling tradition will continue, but the larger winner is the cause of justice.

A version of this article appeared December 31, 2012, on page A14 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The Elephant in the Courtroom.

~ by topcatsroar on January 1, 2013.

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