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By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — A Dunn County judge has dismissed a request to grant an emergency injunction to stop the Ridgeland Pioneer Days chicken toss and greased pig events scheduled for February 15.
Judge Rod W. Smeltzer dismissed the emergency injunction without prejudice filed by the Farm Bird Sanctuary at a hearing held in Dunn County Circuit Tuesday, February 11.
Judge Smeltzer’s courtroom was packed to standing room only with people who were there in support of the Farm Bird Sanctuary and also people who were there in support of the Village of Ridgeland.
Ridgeland has a population of fewer than 300.
The issue at hand is whether the Farm Bird Sanctuary has standing to request an emergency injunction, Judge Smeltzer said.
The Farm Bird Sanctuary, which lists an Edgerton, Wisconsin, address, was represented in court by Ashley Lyon with Julie Magnus appearing by telephone.
The Village of Ridgeland was represented in court by Jerilyn Jacobs and Fred Morris.
Lyon cited Wisconsin statute 184.07 which allows a non-profit organization to assert a claim in any judicial matter.
The lawsuit filed in Dunn County asked for an emergency injunction and cited Wisconsin statute 134.52, pertaining to regulations related to the shipment of chickens, and state statute 951, crimes against animals.
The basis for the emergency injunction is related to prosecuting criminal statutes, Judge Smeltzer said.
Magnus said she was aware that the enforcement rights for the statutes are held by a law enforcement humane officer.
The Farm Bird Sanctuary appealed to the Dunn County district attorney and the Dunn County sheriff to enforce the law against the “clear abuses” of animals in the chicken toss and the greased pig event, Magnus said.
The appeals to the district attorney and the sheriff were met with “utter dismissal and mockery,” Magnus said.
The sheriff called the Farm Bird Sanctuary a “terrorist organization” and said that it was not up to him whether the chicken toss or the greased pig event is legal or not, she said.
Law enforcement does not know their responsibility, Magnus said.
Dunn County Sheriff Kevin Bygd was present in the courtroom, although he was not asked to give testimony on the matter at hand.
The sheriff was sitting only a few places away from the Colfax Messenger/Tribune Press Reporter, and when Magnus said the sheriff did not know his responsibility, Sheriff Bygd appeared not to be able to help himself and exhaled forcefully at the suggestion.
Ultimately, what it comes down to, is whether the Village of Ridgeland has committed a crime, said Jacobs, the attorney for Ridgeland.
State statue 184.07, pertaining to non-profit organizations, is not cited in the request for an emergency injunction, she said.
The request for an emergency injunction does not only seek to cancel the events at Pioneer Days in Ridgeland on Saturday, February 15, but also is asking for a permanent injunction, Jacobs said.
The document filed in Dunn County on behalf of the Farm Bird Sanctuary asks for an emergency order to cancel the “chicken fly” and “greased pig contest” as part of the Pioneer Days event on Saturday, February 15, “and all future events.”
Since the lawsuit is citing statutes with a criminal penalty, the Village of Ridgeland must be allowed to present an adequate defense, Jacobs said.
Filing criminal action is the right of the district attorney, and the state has not made a presentation to the court on criminal prosecution, she said.
The state has the right to file charges pertaining to the animal cruelty statutes, but a private citizen cannot bring action citing criminal statutes, Jacobs said.
The Farm Bird Sanctuary has taken animals from the Ridgeland event in the past and has cared for them at the sanctuary, Magnus said.
It is within the court’s discretion to issue a temporary injunction and then ask for additional briefs to be filed on the issue, she said.
The activities in Ridgeland cause “irreparable harm,” Magnus said.
Since the Farm Bird Sanctuary has attended Pioneer Days in Ridgeland for the past several years, the question is, said Judge Smeltzer, why has the Farm Bird Sanctuary waited until only a couple of weeks before the event to file a request for an injunction?
The sanctuary has had the ability to be heard all along, he said.
The chicken toss has been going on in Ridgeland for decades, Judge Smeltzer noted.
The Farm Bird Sanctuary filed for the injunction because there were no other legal remedies, Lyon said.
Attempts to convince the sheriff and the district attorney to shut down the event were not successful, she said.
A letter sent by certified mail on January 17 was mailed to the governor, the Department of Justice and to the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, Magnus said.
An action filed in court is a different forum than appeals to the sheriff, the district attorney and other agencies, Judge Smeltzer said.
The question is whether the Farm Bird Sanctuary has standing to go forward in court, he said.
Judge Smeltzer said at this point, he had limited facts in the case, and while he has been to Ridgeland for other celebrations, he has not been there for Pioneer Days.
Based on the request, the issue of whether the Farm Bird Sanctuary has standing to move forward in court must be addressed, Judge Smeltzer said.
Jacobs suggested Judge Smeltzer dismiss the request for an emergency injunction without prejudice, which means the Farm Bird Sanctuary can file a new complaint when the organization can demonstrate standing to file a complaint.
Judge Smeltzer dismissed the emergency injunction without prejudice and said the plaintiff must file a brief on the issue of standing in order to move forward.
Judge Smeltzer gave the Farm Bird Sanctuary 30 days to file an amended request for an injunction.
If the Farm Bird Sanctuary wants the issue litigated, the organization must bring the issue properly before the court, he said.
The Farm Bird Sanctuary must file a new request within 30 days in order to go forward with the injunction, and then the Village of Ridgeland will have 30 days to respond, Judge Smeltzer said.
After the Village of Ridgeland responds, the Farm Bird Sanctuary will have 10 days to respond to the Village of Ridgeland, he said.