Injunction stops cockfighting ban in three counties
IDABEL -- Citing problems he has with Oklahoma's new law banning cockfighting and the likelihood more issues will crop up, a judge Monday granted a temporary injunction against enforcing the law in three southeastern Oklahoma counties.
Tulsa attorney Larry Oliver presented several witnesses in persuading District Judge Willard Driesel that irreparable harm would be done to gamecock breeders and fighters if a temporary restraining order granted Nov. 8 was allowed to lapse.
Driesel's order prevents lawmen from enforcing the cockfighting ban in Choctaw, McCurtain and Pushmataha counties until the court can decide on the law's constitutionality.
The law prohibits cockfighting and such things as breeding, raising and selling birds for the purpose of fighting.
"There are so many issues," Driesel said. "We don't deal with these even on a yearly basis. And many issues will crop up between now and our next meeting."
Driesel scheduled a couple of conferences with attorneys to pin down all issues and set a 10 a.m. Feb. 24 hearing on a permanent injunction. But later Monday, Sherry Todd, an assistant attorney general, said the state will appeal Driesel's decision.
Oliver used a series of witnesses to argue gamecock breeders and fighters will suffer financial harm.
Contending an injunction was unnecessary, Todd presented affidavits from District Attorney Virginia Sanders, whose jurisdiction includes all three counties. The affidavits promised that neither the district attorney nor the sheriffs of the three counties would enforce the law until at least Jan. 1.
"That won't fly," Driesel said after announcing his decision in favor of an injunction.
It didn't fly, either, with a courtroom full of spectators, who were allowed to stand in the aisles, stand on the benches and sit in the jury box and on other chairs behind and beside the plaintiffs' and defendants' tables.
The audience said little during the hearing, except for several "Ha-ha-ha" remarks when Todd said the grace period was to give breeders and fighters a chance to get as much return on their investments as possible.
Driesel said although the hearing Monday was not based on the merits of the case, he had several problems with the law. He said he had a hard time figuring out the state's interest in regulating cockfights.
"A majority (of voters) feel it's cruel to do this, so cockfighting is going to be banned," he said, recognizing the Nov. 5 statewide vote on State Question 687. "The problem with that is you're making extinct the very bird the state says it is trying to protect."
As an analogy, he said, "We punish child molesters but don't prohibit the raising of children."
Driesel said the law describes cockfighting as a fight between birds "so I fear any number of chicken growers will be subject to criminal prosecution under this law."
Driesel also said there is no severability clause so "if any part is found unconstitutional, the entire law is unconstitutional."
Oliver's first witness was Paula Durant, who has a construction business and is working toward a teaching degree. She said she destroyed all but about 10 of her more than 300 birds that were worth about $75,000. She said she killed them "because I can't be a felon."
She named civic duties she performs and said, "I have a responsibility to the community."
All three witnesses called testified gamecocks have no use except for fighting.
"You can cook them for a month of Sundays and they'll be as tough as when you put them in," Durant said.
Oliver presented the judge three magazines about cockfighting. Durant said she believed it is now against the law to read those magazines.
Marilynn Cogburn said she and her 75-year-old husband raise and sell gamecocks in Hochatown to supplement their Social Security income. She said they have about 300 birds worth $75,000. She will have to kill them if the law is upheld, she said.
"There wouldn't be any purpose for them," she said.
Charles Johnson Jr. of Idabel said he had about 700 roosters on 10 acres, which includes a training facility. He agreed there was no use for the birds other than fighting.
"Not for me," he said. "It's their pride, wanting to show you they're gamers."
Tillman Hammonds of Fort Towson said he raises cattle and gamecocks on 238 acres. He said his roosters are worth $150 each as fighters, but worth nothing otherwise.
"That's what they're bred for, why I've bred them for 40 years -- their gameness and fighting ability," he said.
Hammonds said his understanding of the new law was "if we met on a street and talked about cockfighting, we'd be felons."
Meanwhile, restraining orders issued last week in
Muskogee, Adair and Sequoyah counties also temporarily prevent lawmen
from enforcing the cockfighting ban there until additional hearings
are held Dec. 18 and 19.