The lawyer suing Smithfield Foods has a genius for creating villains in courtrooms – and he’s painted a picture of Smithfield Foods as an arrogant corporation driven by greed. For example, in the first trial Michael Kaeske told jurors Super Soils, which is one way to treat waste, was a ‘magic wand’ to cure all the problems caused by hog farms, and then he asked Smithfield executive Greg Schmidt, Why didn’t you implement Super Soils?
Greg Schmidt: It wasn’t economically viable.
Michael Kaeske: Did Smithfield do a study to determine how much it would cost to put Super Soils on its farms?
Greg Schmidt: No.
Kaeske made Smithfield look like a villain – it claimed Super Soils wasn't economically viable but it hadn’t done a study to determine what they cost. But Kaeske left out part of the truth. Smithfield didn’t do a study itself – instead it had funded a study by scholars at North Carolina State University to determine whether Super Soils was cost-effective. The research showed it wasn't. But Kaeske never mentioned that.
In the fourth trial, repeating the same point, Kaeske drew a bead on Wendell Murphy. Wendell Murphy, he said, was rich. He was the father of modern hog farming in North Carolina. And when he served in the state legislature he’d passed bills to make himself and other hog farmers wealthier. What did Kaeske leave out this time?
Wendell Murphy grew up on a farm in Duplin County, graduated from North Carolina State University in 1960, then returned to Rose Hill to teach high school. He also started raising hogs the old-fashioned way, outside in a field. Then, in 1969, a hog cholera epidemic hit and the Department of Agriculture destroyed his 3,000 pigs. He picked himself up, started over, and later he was one of the first farmers to raise hogs indoors.
Thirty-six years ago, in 1982, Wendell Murphy was elected to the State Legislature. He left the legislature twenty-six years ago in 1992. Michael Kaeske attacked Murphy for four bills that were passed decades ago. And Kaeske left out a key fact: “Those laws – adopted in the 1980’s and early 1990’s – often passed without a dissenting vote,” the News and Observer reported. Democrats voted for them. Republicans voted for them. The Secretary of Agriculture – a Democrat – supported them. The Governor – a Republican – supported them. For a simple reason: Tobacco was waning as a crop and the bills helped families continue to farm by raising hogs and chickens and turkeys.
Michael Kaeske didn’t mention any of that. In a courtroom, where the goal’s a fair verdict – based on the truth – Michael Kaeske spun a tale to mislead jurors.
This is the part 3 in a 6 part series about the hog nuisance cases.