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Tulsa World

Cockfighting: Judge moves to halt new state law

OKLAHOMA CITY -- A district judge in southeastern Oklahoma issued a restraining order Friday, blocking enforcement of the new law against cockfighting in a three-county area.

The temporary restraining order was issued by Judge Willard Driesel of Idabel and applies only to the counties -- McCurtain, Choctaw and Pushmataha -- in his jurisdiction.

Named as defendants are McCurtain County Sheriff Mike Willeby, Pushmataha County Sheriff Elvin Flood, Choctaw County Sheriff Lewis Collins, District Attorney Virginia Sanders, the State of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.

It was filed on behalf of a group of game fowl breeders by Tulsa attorney Larry Oliver, who also is seeking an injunction to block enforcement of the law approved Tuesday by the voters.

The law went into effect Friday at 5 p.m., when the state Election Board certified the vote on State Question 687 and the returns became official.

Oliver said he hopes the judge will leave the restraining order in effect until he rules on constitutional issues that are raised. Although it only affects the three counties under Driesel's jurisdiction, Oliver said law enforcement officers and district attorneys in other areas of the state may delay enforcement until the issue is decided.

It isn't clear at this point what the effect would be, if the judge should rule the new law unconstitutional, since it is an issue that ultimately would be decided by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

The lawsuit could have been filed anywhere in the state. Oliver said he picked the judicial district in Little Dixie because that is the traditional home of cockfighting in Oklahoma.

Cynthia Armstrong, campaign manager for SQ 687, said the legal action is a desperation tactic by the game fowl breeders.

"It is clear the law is constitutional," she said. "It mirrors the law against dog fighting, which has remained intact for 20 years.

"It is just like the laws of 47 other states that ban cockfighting," she said.

The restraining order states that the eight plaintiffs in the case allege they and 50,000 other Oklahomans are involved in the business of breeding, growing, selling and transporting fighting chickens within and outside the state, all of which is prohibited under the new law.

They allege further that they could be imprisoned for up to 10 years and fined up to $25,000, face loss of income and confiscation of their fighting cocks and equipment.

Enforcement of the law would result in "immediate and irreparable injury, loss and damage, incarceration or restraint of freedom, deprivation of property without compensation, loss of property," the plaintiffs allege in their motion.

The restraining order says the court has "great concern regarding the constitutionality of this measure."

Specifically, the judge said he was concerned the law may:

Be too vague to sufficiently put citizens of ordinary intelligence on notice of the actions prohibited (and punishable) under the law.

Prohibit constitutionally protected actions and freedoms.

Interfere with interstate commerce and travel.

Deprive citizens of property without just compensation.

Infringe on protected economic rights or the rights to pursue one's chosen means of livelihood.

The restraining order was issued only a few hours before Tuesday's election results were certified and the law went into effect.

Driesel set a hearing for 10 a.m. Nov. 18 and will rule then on whether to issue an injunction.