The Texas lawyer closed his side of the nuisance case against the Joey Carter hog farm in Duplin County with a stunning argument.
In his first moments with the jury, and then again in the final ones, he sought to make them comfortable with easily taking money from Smithfield Foods and threatening the very livelihood of Joey Carter and his family.
It had to do with how he described the very burden of proof – his burden – as the one who is bringing the lawsuit that alleges the Carter farm is a legal nuisance.
Maybe you have doubt about that, the lawyer told the jury.
Maybe you are not convinced that the farm unreasonably and substantially interfered with the property of a husband and wife a quarter-mile away.
That would be OK, the lawyer told them.
“You don’t need to be convinced,” he said, before launching into what the phrase “preponderance of the evidence” means. That subjective phrase is the standard for proof in this type of civil case, and it stands in contrast to “beyond a reasonable doubt” that is in place for criminal matters.
At one point, the Texas lawyer said it’d be enough for the jury to decide that the farm is a nuisance if they believe the evidence leans his way just “more so than not so.”
Later, the Texas lawyer struck the theme again, coaching the jurors through their expected deliberations.
He said: If one of you says in the jury room, hey, I’m just not convinced about this farm as a nuisance.
Remember, he said, “you don’t have to be convinced.”
And so here we are, with 12 people in Raleigh considering whether to label a responsible, well-run farm as a nuisance based on some lawyer from Texas arguing that they don’t have to be convinced of the case he brought to court.
What is convincing is that there was plenty of evidence and testimony over the course of the trial that shows the farm is not a nuisance – that the Carter farm is no more a legal nuisance than the Durham Bulls are a nuisance in downtown Durham or the Carolina Panthers football stadium is in uptown Charlotte.
At trial, Duplin County officials spoke of how proud they are of agriculture, and how important it is and how they have fostered it. This is for good reason: Farming is woven into the fabric of the county. If we can’t have the Joey Carter farm in Duplin County, where can we?
Let’s focus on what is convincing.
If the jury could have heard all the testimony about the Carter farm and its surroundings, especially from an odor expert, not one would say this farm is a nuisance.
If the jury could have visited the farm, as Smithfield wanted, and they could have stuck their noses in on the barns and stood by the lagoon and visited the surrounding area, not one would say this farm is a nuisance.
If the jury knew that leaders from across eastern North Carolina are standing up for farming instead of disparaging those who produce our food, surely not a one would be convinced about anything other than seeing this for what it was: An attempt to win some money at the expense of good people who are out there every day trying to do things the right way.
If they knew it all, they’d do what is right and put a stop to these attacks.
You can be sure of that.
– Andy Curliss, CEO