The state must pay $95,000 in attorney fees to Friends of Animals for a lawsuit the Connecticut-based animal-rights group won last year that temporarily halted Alaska's controversial predator control program, according to a decision by an Anchorage Superior Court judge last week.
Superior Court judge Sharon Gleason ruled Friday that the state is responsible for attorney fees incurred by Friends of Animals for a lawsuit the group filed in November 2003 that was decided last January.
The decision was confirmed by state officials and representatives for Friends of Animals.
"It's very good news," said FOA executive director Priscilla Feral by phone from Connecticut.
The state has 30 days to appeal the decision and officials are mulling over that possibility, said Kevin Saxby with the Department of Law.
"We're looking at our options," said Saxby, who serves as legal adviser to the Alaska Board of Game, the entity that approved the state's aerial predator control program. "We haven't made any decision."
The victory is a hollow one, though. While Friends of Animals was declared the winner in the case when Gleason ruled the Game Board did not follow its own rules in approving the aerial predator control, the program was stopped for only 10 days before being reinstated.
The Game Board held an emergency meeting to address the court's legal concerns and a follow-up attempt by Friends of Animals to halt the program again was denied by Gleason. The animal-rights group appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court, which declined FOA's petition for review.
In the past four years, more than 550 wolves in five parts of the state have been shot and killed as part of the state's predator control program to increase the number of moose and caribou for hunters. Friends of Animals has been trying to shut down Alaska's predator control program for the past 13 years, saying the science supporting it is "rubbish," in the words of Feral.
Friends of Animals filed another suit against the state in November to stop the aerial shooting of wolves, and Feral said the group will file for a preliminary injunction this week. The money it gets from the state will help fund that suit, Feral said.
"We'll apply it toward the current legal fees," she said.
It marks the second time in 13 years that the state has been required to pay attorneys' fees to Friends of Animals, according to Feral. In 1994, the group received approximately $9,000 from the state after then-Gov. Wally Hickel sued the animal-rights group for false advertising because Friends of Animals organized a national tourism boycott of Alaska by placing advertisements in newspapers around the United States.
According to Saxby, Friends of Animals was declared a public interest litigant in the latest case and is therefore entitled to full reimbursement of legal fees. A public interest litigant is a party that files a suit with no incentive of financial gain. Had the judge ruled Friends of Animals was not a public interest litigant, the animal-rights group would have received only 20 percent of the legal fees, Saxby said.
The Alaska Legislature passed a law last session stating that courts can't financially discriminate against parties who are not public interest litigants, he said. That issue is being decided by the Alaska Supreme Court.
Contact staff Writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587 or firstname.lastname@example.org.