Feld Beats PETA

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals lost its lawsuit March 15th against Kenneth Feld, the head of the parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, whom PETA accused of running a spy campaign against the animal-rights group.

PETA’s suit against Feld, chairman and CEO of Vienna, Va.-based Feld Entertainment Inc., alleged that Feld and his associates orchestrated a “massive conspiracy” aimed at harming PETA because of the group’s longtime campaign for the rights of circus animals, according to The Virginian-Pilot.

“I think this vindicates myself, the circus, the circus people,” Feld reportedly said after the verdict. “This doesn’t represent anything we’re about. We’re in the family entertainment business.”

PETA had sought $1.8 million in legal fees and damages, said PETA lawyer Philip Hirschkop, who promised to appeal the decision.

The suit claimed Feld and his associates sent agents into PETA and other animal-rights groups in the early 1990s to steal documents, monitor activities and hamper their work, according to the paper.

“The destruction of evidence – including secret reports and boxes of audio tapes, videotapes, and photographs – that the jury was not allowed to see gave Feld a deniability that was impossible to overcome,” PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk said in a release, according to the Pilot.

During the 10-day trial, Hirschkop reportedly presented internal financial and personnel documents from PETA and other groups that had been in the possession of Charles Smith, a former Feld Entertainment VP.

Smith testified that the documents had come from a now-deceased detective he hired to monitor PETA and other groups.

Feld’s attorneys argued that PETA’s civil suit was nothing more than a publicity stunt to raise donations, the Pilot said.

It was agreed, however, that Feld’s companies monitored PETA and other groups because they were legitimately concerned about the financial threat they posed to the circus. But attorneys contended that Feld himself broke no law and did no harm to PETA’s business, and denied any knowledge of how the detective obtained the documents, the paper reported.

The jury rejected a counterclaim brought by Feld’s attorneys against PETA for abuse of process.

Meanwhile, PETA vowed it would not stop in its efforts to expose abuse animals endure in the circus.

“Feld may walk, but PETA has put on the record Ringling’s dirty tricks, animal abuse, and sleazy business practices,” the group said.