BPI got its first day in court against ABC News.It was more than a year ago when Beef Products Incorporated sued American Broadcasting Corporation News for defamation.
The case has bounced from state court to federal court and back again.But Tuesday afternoon, lawyers for both sides made their first arguments in front of a Union County Circuit Court judge. The preliminary hearing was designed to let the Judge Cheryl Gering deal with a number of issues in the case before it may go to trial. The arguments before her lasted more than 3 hours, as attorneys for BPI and ABC went back and forth on claims the network ruined the company's reputation and financial standing throughout the nation and in South Dakota.
Now BPI wants $1.2 billion dollars for damages caused by the alleged defamation.
These most recent court proceedings stemmed back to the ABC News reports in 2012 that labeled BPI beef products as quote "pink slime", "low grade", "filler"and much more, according to BPI's legal team.
Four motions were being argued.
The main one asked the judge to dismiss the entire case against ABC News and its journalists.
ABC's attorney Kevin Baine argued that this case puts in jeopardy the media's right to be objective.
"Make no mistake about it your honor, we're talking about free speech here. If the first amendment means anything, it means that supporters and critics alike must be able to coin their own flattering and pejorative terms to talk about a product like this," said Baine.
However, BPI's attorney Erik Connolly argued that the stories weren't objective and repeatedly defamed BPI along with two associated companies, BPI Tech and Freezing Machine Inc., that also make Lean Finely Textured Beef or LFTB.
"The first amendment does not protect what these defendants did. These defendants engaged in an prolonged and extensive disinformation campaign," said Connolly.
The attorneys also argued about the involvement and impact of a former BPI employee, Kit Foshee, who BPI attorneys said was presented in ABC's reports as the 2nd in command at the company.
BPI argued Foshee was actually a lower level employee and gave ABC incorrect facts about the product.
The hearing ended with a final motion to dismiss charges against two former USDA scientists, Gerald Zirnstein and Carl Custer, who were interviewed by ABC.
BPI alleges one of them coined the term "pink slime," which was used more than 130 times in ABC's reports.
Judge Gering will now have to decide whether to dismiss the case altogether or which issues will be included should a trial take place.
She says she'll deliver a written decision as soon as possible.
There's an interesting side note to this story.
South Dakota is among about a dozen states where making disparaging or bad remarks against agriculture can triple the penalty against those who violate the law.
That's why BPI's claim of about $400 million dollars in damages could result in a $1.2 billion dollar award.If you have a story you want to tell or an incident you think needs to be investigated, our reporter Beairshelle Edmé wants to hear about it.BEdme@siouxlandnews.comfacebook.com/beairshelle.edme OR twitter.com/BeairshelleKMEG