Maryland taxpayers could soon be paying as much as $300,000 to help a Berlin chicken farmer cover legal fees incurred during a three-year lawsuit, the case of Waterkeepers Alliance, Inc. v. Alan and Kristin Hudson Farm and Perdue Farms, Inc.
Del. Norman Conway, a Wicomico County Democrat, put in an amendment to the state budget that would give Alan Hudson and his family up to $300,000 in assistance with legal fees accrued in the case.
"This became such an issue for the farming community of our state and even more so for the Eastern Shore," Conway said on the House floor, according to the Washington Post.
"It did carry this family almost to the brink of losing everything they had."
To receive state funds, the Hudsons would have to document their legal expenses. The Board of Public Works — the state agency that doles out money for projects ranging from playgrounds to sewage-treatment plants — would be authorized to make the money available.
The Hudsons would only receive the money if their legal bills exceeded the money available to cover them. The Hudsons have raised thousands of dollars through Save Farm Families, an organization Perdue helped to start for them. The money has come from neighbors and farmers from across the country.
The Hudsons and Perdue have each asked U.S. District Court Judge William Nickerson to make the Waterkeepers pay their legal fees.
If Nickerson doesn't award enough to cover the full amount — or declines to order any at all — and the money raised by Save Farm Families does not cover the Hudsons' costs, they will be able to access the $300,000.
The lawsuit began in 2010, when the Waterkeeper Alliance sued Alan Hudson and Perdue for violating the Clean Water Act based on high levels of bacteria that the Waterkeepers discovered in a ditch on the farm.
The University of Maryland's Environmental Law Clinic represented the Waterkeepers, which rankled Gov. Martin O'Malley and several other lawmakers.
Just before Christmas, Nickerson ruled in favor of Hudson and Perdue, saying the Waterkeepers did not prove the farmer had violated the law.
Nonetheless, the case revealed that Hudson had not filed a nutrient management plan for five years and didn't always follow the plans in the years he did have them. He also testified he did not know in some years how much manure he spread and where he spread it. In addition, Hudson took cost-share money from the state to build a manure shed, but used it instead to park his truck. He didn't follow several recommended farming practices, including disinfecting his ventilation fans.
There was no discussion of these issues when the House of Delegates approved the measure on a voice vote before going on to other matters in the $37 billion budget.
As a result, there is no written record of who voted in favor or against the amendment.
Del. James Hubbard, a Prince George's County Democrat who co-founded the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators and
boasts a perfect score on his environmental record from the League of Conservation voters, was one of several environmental advocates to vote "yea."
"The environmental group went a little to far on this," Hubbard said. "It didn't sound right to me, based on the information I got."