Federal judge refuses to dismiss Idaho ag-gag lawsuit
BOISE — Chief U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill on Thursday ordered that a lawsuit challenging Idaho's new ag-gag law can move forward.
A coalition of animal activists, civil rights groups and media organizations filed the lawsuit against the state in March, shortly after the Idaho Legislature enacted a new law making it illegal to secretly film animal abuse at agricultural facilities.
The coalition contends that the law, called an “ag gag” law, criminalizes whistleblowing and violates freedom of speech.
In his 33-page order denying the state’s motion to dismiss the case, Winmill states some claims raised by the coalition are "ripe for review." Winmill did dismiss Gov. Butch Otter as a defendant in the case because Otter does not have enforcement authority over the law.
The Legislature passed the law earlier this year after Idaho's dairy industry complained that videos showing cows being abused at a south Idaho dairy unfairly hurt business.
The Los Angeles-based animal rights group Mercy For Animals released the videos, which showed workers at Bettencourt Dairy beating cows in 2012.
The coalition notes that under the new law, gathering proof of animal abuse is a crime with a harsher punishment than the penalty for animal cruelty itself.
The law says people caught surreptitiously filming agricultural operations face up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. By comparison, a first animal cruelty offense is punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $5,000. A second offense within 10 years of the first conviction carries a penalty of up to nine months in jail and a fine up to $7,000.