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The Oklahoman

Temporary ban widened on cockfight law

TAHLEQUAH -- Frustrated by the increase in legal challenges to Oklahoma's new ban on cockfighting, a district judge on Thursday granted a "temporary, temporary restraining order."

Meanwhile, Kingfisher County authorities are conducting what could be the state's first criminal investigation into an alleged possession of cockfighting roosters.

More than 250 people packed the Cherokee County Courthouse as District Judge Bruce Sewell said he would prohibit authorities from enforcing the state ban in Cherokee and Wagoner counties. A hearing on the temporary restraining order is set for Dec. 2.

Eight counties -- all in eastern Oklahoma -- now have temporary orders against enforcing the law.

Sewell said he would not listen to arguments or rule on motions Thursday and urged the plaintiffs to consolidate their cases into one case for a single hearing.

"We need one hearing in one county," Sewell said, "and it wouldn't bother me if it wasn't in my county."

The Nov. 5 approval of State Question 687 banned cockfighting, as well as breeding, raising and selling birds for that purpose.

During the 15-minute hearing, Larry Oliver argued the ban hurts gamecock breeders.

District Attorney Dianne Barker Harrold didn't object to the judge's ruling.

Barker Harrold and Oliver said they would try to consolidate the cases, but the process for doing so is not clear. Barker Harrold said the Supreme Court may have to determine which court would hear the case.

But Guy Hurst, chief of the litigation section for the attorney general, said the parties could file a motion in one court to transfer the other cases there and then ask that judge to consolidate them.

"It's going to end up in the Supreme Court," Hurst said. "We just have to figure out how to get it there."

Oliver, who represents the Oklahoma Gamefowl Breeders Association, said after the hearing that there are 50,000 people -- from children to adults -- who participate in cockfighting in Oklahoma.

The Tulsa attorney has filed lawsuits in eight counties preventing the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, local district attorneys and county sheriffs from enforcing the law.

He has received temporary restraining orders in Muskogee, Sequoyah, Adair, Choctaw, Pushmataha and McCurtain counties.

Willard Morgan of Tulsa, who owns gamecocks, said the ban has been unconstitutional from the beginning.

After the hearing, Morgan said the ruling "means nothing."

"I don't believe a judge or sheriff is going to take this (cockfighting ban) on," Morgan said. "If they were to get beat in the courtroom, then their careers would be over."

In Kingfisher County, deputies are investigating possible illegal possession of fighting roosters they discovered while investigating another crime, said Sgt. Eldon Dickson of the county sheriff's office.

Dickson said investigators discovered about 100 roosters in a pen while investigating the fatal starvation of 27 horses in a field east of Lacey. The roosters were found at the same location, but appeared to have a different owner than the horses, he said.

No one has been arrested or charged in either investigation, Dickson said.

"We're going to go ahead and work it as a crime," he said. "We don't have any other option than to do an investigation."