RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) A federal appeals court panel says a trial judge went too far with a gag order that forbid lawyers or virtually anyone with knowledge of conditions at North Carolina hog operations from sharing information with reporters or on social media.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that judges overseeing lawsuits in the Carolinas, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia can issue gag orders only as a last resort. The ruling was sought by farm and journalism groups, including The Associated Press.
Pork giant Smithfield Foods challenged a North Carolina federal judge barring involved parties and “all potential witnesses” from discussing dozens of lawsuits claiming industrial-scale hog farms create unreasonable nuisances.
Juries in the first three trials hit Smithfield with verdicts totaling nearly $550 million.