The Trial Lawyer Winter 2018 - Page 96

THEGOOD,BAD,UGLY By Farron Cousins The Good So-called ag-gag laws have been put in place all over the country in an effort to prevent journalists, lawyers, and activists from being able to get a behind the scenes look at some of the most corrupt corporate behavior taking place in the United States. These laws make it a criminal offense to take photographs or other recordings in public and private areas, and they have been pushed by corporations in order to prevent someone from looking over their shoulders. In late October, a District judge in Wyoming struck down the state’s ag-gag laws on the grounds that the law was passed to target specific groups (those mentioned above). Judge Scott Skawdahl actually got two shots at the law, the first being his decision to throw out the case that was brought by groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council, but after the Court of Appeals sent the case back to him, he found that the law was so narrow in focus in order to target a specific group that it was clearly not written to protect parties from trespassers. 94 x The Trial Lawyer Wyoming’s ag-gag law was indeed written to protect corporate interests by limiting free speech. The law prohibited the use of any data collected (which includes photographs or soil and water samples) in violation of the law from being used in any research and mandated the expungement of any such data. The law also imposed penalties that were more severe than those in place for other trespass laws, allowing for up to one year in prison and up to a $1000 fine. The law was written to prevent these collected samples from being turned over to regulators or lawyers who might file a lawsuit against a company found to be breaking rules. By overturning this law, Judge Skawdahl has put corporations on notice that they cannot continue to hide their activities from the public, and more importantly, that we have a collective right to find out what is taking place in our own backyards.