Processing Magazine

Geologist hired kids, friends for expert report in poultry case

October 19, 2009
A geologist admitted that he hired his own three daughters and family friends to do legwork for a report that became the backbone of Oklahoma''s pollution lawsuit against the Arkansas poultry industry, reports the Associated Press. J. Berton Fisher, one of the state''s expert witnesses, testified he hired at least eight family members and friends, including the daughter of one of the attorneys handling the state''s 2005 lawsuit. As the attorneys for the poultry companies cross-examined Fisher, they tried to show Fisher had a cozy relationship with Oklahoma''s attorneys and tailored his scientific findings to support their thesis that chicken waste was the main source of pollution in the Illinois River watershed. Scott McDaniel, an attorney for Peterson Farms Inc., one of 11 companies being sued by the state, got Fisher to testify to putting family and friends on his payroll at $18 an hour, then billing Motley Rice, the South Carolina law firm representing the state on a contingency-fee basis, $35 an hour. Fisher also admitted his company has billed at least $750,000 worth of work since the lawsuit was filed. Attorneys representing Oklahoma have spent at least $25 million on the case so far. They will be reimbursed only if the state wins. McDaniel claimed Fisher''s firm was largely supported by lawyers who hired him as an expert, and he had relationships with at least two of the attorneys who eventually sued the poultry industry. McDaniel introduced into evidence an August 2004 memo addressed to Fisher and several others that talked about the need to show a link between the disposal of poultry waste and pollution in the river valley. He also questioned Fisher''s methods, getting the scientist to admit that his staff collected several water samples, before he wrote a memo instructing them on how to do it properly.