A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein
May 27, 2014
Many of you have been sending me this story and asking about it. Many of you also think that aspca and hsus are national/umbrella organizations. They are not. They are not connected in any way to the other spcas and human societies across the country. Your spcaLA has nothing to do with this egregious conduct.
That said, 14 years ago aspca and others sued Feld for issues regarding the improper treatment of their elephants. As standing is required to be heard in court - a plaintiff was identified and the case was allowed to proceed. When it was learned that there was an issue regarding the legitimacy of this plaintiff, Feld countered under the Rico statute which is a federal criminal racketeering law alleging bad behavior and conspiracy on the part of aspca, hsus et al. This is the result:
aspca, hsus and others collectively have to pay Feld, the parent company of Ringling Brothers circus almost 25 million dollars (9.2 and 15.5 million respectively) to settle a lawsuit in which, as stated by the Wall Street Journal Law Blog, " the groups and their lawyers bribed a former circus employee to make up allegations that Feld abused Asian elephants in its circus."
This number does not include 14 years of legal fees, trial costs, and other assets wasted for over a decade, expenses often not covered by insurance as they were the initiators of the suit. (Insurance surely would not cover the almost 300,000 in inappropriate witness payments.) I say wasted because they knew from the start that they had a tainted witness and continued anyway. I would not be upset if it was a bona fide ethically handled lawsuit to help circus elephants that just was lost. That happens. In a world where Ringling Brothers had to pay the largest exhibitor fine ever to USDA for their treatment of animals and where Sarah the elephant collapsed on stage - the aspca et al had to mess with a witness to allege a problem?
It is not enough that aspca is criticized for unethical fundraising practices, not disclosing that they are not a national umbrella organization which hurts animals all over the country who suffer from lack of resources, but their unethical behavior in this law suit has hurt the reputation of animal welfare organizations everywhere who are mistakenly believed to be their "chapters", the elephants, other circus animals who are slaves to the entertainment industry and trapped in pom-poms and chains, and has set back efforts to help these animals. This is particularly vexing as it hands the bullhook to Ringling Brothers with which to beat us.
That said, here in Los Angeles, without lawsuits, and millions of dollars your spcaLA, PAWS, Voice for the Animals, other local charities and you, the citizens of our city, dealt a blow to the circus by successfully enacting a bullhook ban in the city of Los Angeles, which, according to Ringling Brothers, means they can't come here anymore.
Of course, this is not enough, but, we didn't have to bribe anyone to do it.
Ugh - so disappointing.