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Shawnee News Star

Judge extends order blocking ban

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (AP) -- Cockfighters and game fowl breeders in three eastern Oklahoma counties won a longer reprieve from prosecution Monday after a judge extended his order blocking enforcement of a new ban on the blood sport.

District Judge Bruce Sewell's order means the state's new cockfighting ban cannot be enforced in Cherokee, Muskogee and Wagoner counties at least until next year, when a hearing on the law's merits can be held.

Late last month, Sewell had granted plaintiffs a temporary restraining order blocking enforcement of the law in Cherokee and Wagoner counties until Monday's hearing. He added Muskogee County to the order after a judge there asked that a similar case in his court be consolidated with the cases before Sewell.

Enforcement of the law, which was passed by 56 percent of voters Nov. 5 and took effect three days later, has been temporarily blocked in 13 counties after cockfighting supporters filed a string of lawsuits.

The ban makes it a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine to hold cockfights, keep equipment or facilities for cockfighting or possess the birds.

Cockfighting supporters claim the ban is unconstitutional because it is too vague, too broad, interferes with interstate commerce, infringes on economic rights and deprives people of their property without just compensation. Neither District Attorney Diane Barker Harrold nor the OSBI, represented by the attorney general's office, objected to Sewell extending his restraining order Monday.

Sewell repeated his request that both sides consolidate the myriad lawsuits into one, so that one judge can hear and decide on the law's constitutionality. One case would also be easier to appeal to the Supreme Court than ten different cases with mixed records, the judge said.

Assistant Attorney General Sherry Todd said Monday that her office has not yet decided how to consolidate the cases, but determining a method would be a priority this week.

Sewell set a Feb. 3 teleconference between the parties to decide whether a hearing needs to be held on the law's merits. The restraining order will block enforcement until that hearing could be held.