The animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) lost a lawsuit yesterday in which they alleged they were the victims of an illegal domestic spying program. No, this isn’t another NSA story. PETA alleged that the owner of the Ringling Brothers Circus had engaged in illegal wiretapping and spying in the Circus’ dealings with PETA. After 9 hours the jury found for the Circus, confirming that there was, in fact, a load of manure around the joint but that it wasn’t the Circus who was housing it.
The president of the company that owns the Ringling Bros. circus was cleared Wednesday of accusations he ran a spy campaign against animal rights groups.
The decision by a Fairfax County Circuit Court jury is a blow to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which brought the civil suit against Kenneth Feld. Feld is the president of Vienna-based Feld Entertainment, which owns the legendary circus and numerous other high-profile entertainment acts, including Disney on Ice.
The two sides have been at odds for years. PETA filed the suit in 2001. In opening arguments last month, PETA’s lawyer claimed Feld was in charge of an espionage campaign and stole items including donor lists. Feld’s lawyer said nothing illegal was done, PETA was never harmed by any alleged actions, and that the group was hypocritical because it frequently uses undercover operatives to expose wrongdoing. [Link]
We don’t have all the facts of the case, of course, but PETA seems to be relying on the fact that Ringling Bros. had lots of PETA’s confidential documents in their possession. So what? It proves they had the documents, not how they got them. Disgruntled or careless PETA employees and members might have been equally at fault. And even if the company who had the documents managed to infiltrate PETA and get their hands on their internal documents, PETA’s not exactly a national security agency. Sorry, folks, it’s going to take more than that and you really don’t want to go in front of an appeals court unless you do have more.