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Cattlemen Lose Food Slander
Case Against Oprah Winfrey
& Howard Lyman

Houston Chronicle
Sept. 17, 2002, 9:29PM

Judge dismisses 6-year-old suit against Oprah over beef
Associated Press

After six years, escalating legal fees and a celebrated trial in the heart
of Texas cattle country, a federal judge has dismissed a lingering lawsuit
that accused Oprah Winfrey of maligning the beef industry.

U.S. District Judge Mary Lou Robinson threw out "all claims and causes of
action asserted or that could have been asserted" by Cactus Feeding Club
Inc. and against Winfrey, her production company and vegetarian activist
Howard Lyman.

The lawsuit was similar to the one that went to trial in Robinson's court in
January 1998, causing Winfrey to move her popular talk show to Amarillo for
several episodes and creating a carnival-like atmosphere in the Texas
Panhandle city for six weeks.

The 138 livestock owners sued Winfrey in Dumas, a town of 13,000 about 45
miles north of Amarillo. But the case was quickly removed back to Robinson's
federal court, over the objections of plaintiff's attorney Kevin Isern, and
has sat there for four years.

"It was kind of a soft landing to a hard trial," said Chip Babcock, a
top-gun First Amendment attorney who represented Winfrey in the case.

The cattlemen have contended Lyman violated Texas' "veggie libel" law during
an April 1996 edition of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" by saying U.S. beef could
be at risk of spreading mad cow disease.

The incurable illness, blamed for several deaths in England, had not been
detected in U.S. herds before the show or in the 6 1/2 years since.

In the weeks after the show, already slumping cattle prices dropped to
10-year lows. Cactus Feeders Inc. owner Paul Engler, who was behind both
lawsuits, unsuccessfully appealed the verdict to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court
of Appeals.

Babcock said his side expects to recover $85,000 in court costs, but
otherwise Robinson ruled each side must cover its own expenses in her order
dated Aug. 27.

Neither Engler nor Winfrey immediately returned messages seeking comment
Tuesday.

The 1996 trial created a media encampment outside the Amarillo federal
courthouse and long lines of residents wanting to get into the courtroom and
the local theater where Winfrey did several of her shows.

The cattlemen suing Winfrey claimed Lyman's statements -- coupled with
editing they say portrayed the industry in a negative light and her shouting
that she never would eat another hamburger -- inappropriately defamed the
industry and cost them money.

Winfrey defended the show and its right to have guests speak their minds.
Lyman, a former rancher who became an animal rights advocate, stood by his
statements on the witness stand.

Winfrey attended the courtroom every day, then taped shows in the evenings.
When the trial ended, she told a jubilant crowd on the courthouse steps,
"Free speech rocks!"

The legal morass was estimated to have cost Winfrey as much as $1 million,
with the cattlemen spending perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars
themselves.

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