Poultry ruling or punchline that took way too long?

Poultry ruling

As a public service, I’m repeating a newspaper headline from this week that I’m sure a lot of people missed because it’s 2023 and there’s no longer a place for the daily paper in their lives.

“Ruling puts water pollution stamp on poultry companies”

I had deja vu all over again when I stumbled across the story on page 4A of Friday’s edition of The Oklahoman.

The case began in 2005 when then Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson filed a lawsuit on behalf of the state against 13 integrated poultry companies.

Edmondson alleged the poultry companies — most based in Western Arkansas — had polluted the Illinois River basin from the spread of chicken manure across pasture and cropland .

So, why is this important enough that I write a blog post about it?

Well, in 2008 I was a Business News reporter for The Oklahoman, with agriculture as one of my beats. When a hearing began in February 2008 in Federal Court in Tulsa on Edmondson’s bid for an injunction against spreading poultry manure in the Illinois River watershed, my job required I cover it for the paper.

drew edmondson
Drew Edmondson at poultry hearing.

The hearing was held in Tulsa federal courthouse before Judge Gregory K. Frizzell.

Turns out, the injunction hearing turned into a long-haul of court dates. It ran through four February hearings before a week’s pause, and then picked up in March for another week.

There was testimony from “expert” witnesses and acrimony between attorneys for both sides.

Judge Frizzell was clearly frustrated over the slow pace of the hearing.

“Frankly, this is the longest preliminary injunction hearing I’ve ever conducted,” Frizzell was quoted as saying in one of my stories.

What do I remember of the hearing 15 years later?  Seared into my memory is how vigorously attorneys from both sides of the case — plaintiff and defendants — attacked the credibility of every expert who testified.

In fact, attorneys worked so hard to destroy the credibility of the witnesses that the actual testimony seemed like an afterthought.

My friend Russ Florence also sat through each day of the hearing because his Tulsa-based public relations firm, Schnake Turnbo Frank, was working on behalf of the defendants. Today, Russ is President and CEO of Schnake Turnbo and is currently writing a book on the history of the firm, which includes a section on the trial.

Russ writes: “Like the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, each side tried to out-maneuver each — politically, legally, and publicly. They circled one another, trying to deliver a punch that would resonate …”

I was grateful when the hearing finally ended and I didn’t have to make a daily commute to Tulsa and back. Several months later Judge Frizzell denied the injunction request.

The actual trial over the pollution issue began the next year. I was no longer working at the paper, so someone else had the pleasure to cover it.

And now, almost 15 years later, we have our verdict. The poultry companies — 13 of them originally — are responsible for the poultry manure pollution of the Illinois Watershed.

“So much has happened since then,” Russ told me. “Some of the poultry companies have been acquired by others. Several of the key players have retired. And to think, I was single then, and am now married and have a fifth grader.”

And what of the punishment imposed on the responsible poultry companies?

“The parties are hereby directed to meet and attempt to reach an agreement with regard to remedies to be imposed in this action. In the event the parties are unable to reach an accord, the court shall enter judgment,” Judge Frizzell wrote in his ruling.

That’s it? It’s a ruling easily could have been imposed back in, say, 2009.

Seems like a joke that took way too long to get to the punchline.

An OKC Field of Dreams and ghosts of baseball past

A group of OKC adults turned the Northeast High School baseball field into their own ‘Field of Dreams’ for an afternoon

Moneyball is one of my favorite movies. It shows the impact that using computer statistics to drive player development had on Major League baseball and the Oakland Athletics in the early 2000s.

The movie features a host of memorable scenes, including one where Oakland outfielder David Justice asks new first baseman Scott Hatteberg what he feared most at the position.

Hatteberg had been a catcher all of his professional career, and to that point had never played even an inning at first base.

“A baseball hit in my general direction,” was Hatteberg’s honest reply to Justice’s question.

That’s exactly how I felt Sunday afternoon as I stood in right field at the Northeast High School baseball field.

I was there at the invitation of my friend, Russ Florence, who invited a group of fellow adults to “have a catch” with him.  A lifelong baseball fan, Russ began his informal monthly “catch” several months ago.

It was sort of a Field of Dreams-come-to-real-life opportunity for those of us who once played the game or have followed it all of our lives.

The baseball dreamers who came out Sunday included several guys my age or older, a few younger and a couple of women who showed more agility than most of their male counterparts.

I dug my old baseball glove out of the closet and joined about a dozen others at the Northeast field.

Unfortunately, the experience revealed exactly how the passage of time has robbed me of athletic ability, real or imagined.

Once upon a time, I thought of myself as a pretty good baseball player. Now that was in Little League in College Station, Texas, followed by Pony League as a 13- and 14-year-old.

Here’s how it went five decades later on a warm November afternoon beneath a bright blue sky.

First, we warmed up by playing catch with a partner about 40 feet away. I put most of my throws into the ground in front of him or several feet to his left.

My shoulder ached after about 15 minutes. My glove hand screamed with pain from catching baseballs in the heart of the mitt.

Then came the real embarrassment. I stood in right field as Russ hit flies and grounders to players stationed at infield and outfield positions.

He hit one in my general direction.

My feet felt like they were in quicksand as I “ran” toward it. I could not bend over far enough to even make a stabbing attempt at a catch.

I hung my head in shame. No one seemed to notice.

Russ hit about three other balls in my direction. I managed to catch one on the bounce barehanded, but caught none before they hit the ground. I decided if a ball wasn’t hit within three feet of where I was standing, I had no chance.

But the day wasn’t a total loss. I had the opportunity to visit with some old — and new — friends. The weather was pleasant watching from the dugout, where I spent much of my time.

“It really scratches an itch for a lot of people,” Russ told me afterward. “None of us is as good as as we once were — or as good as we THINK we once were. I’m glad you were there.”

Thank you, Russ, for inviting this ‘ghost’ of a former player to experience your OKC version of the Field of Dreams.

Even if it brought home a sobering reality of aging.