The third case brought by the Texas lawyer against a North Carolina hog farm has been building, slowly and carefully, to what surely would be the dramatic testimony of a key plaintiff.
The plaintiff’s name is Jimmy Jacobs. He took the stand Tuesday.
And, yes, there was what you might call drama.
Jimmy is the closest of six neighbors who are suing two adjacent farms in Pender County on claims that the farms unreasonably interfere with their property.
Jimmy had been featured in the Texas lawyer’s opening statement, shown in video and photos outside his home near the farm.
Then, and since, there has been a lot of talk in the trial about Jimmy’s garden, full of collards and tomatoes, and the Texas lawyer has raised ominous feelings that… maybe… perhaps… it could be that the garden food isn’t too safe to eat. Such suggestions surely get a jury’s attention.
But Jimmy shot that down from the witness stand on Tuesday.
Yes, he said, he gardens almost the whole year. And, yes, he has fed his family and himself and plenty of friends from that garden for years upon years. And no, he said, no one has ever been sick eating from his garden. He seemed offended at the very notion, as he should be.
But that wasn’t the only drama.
You see, early in the trial, a college professor who the Texas lawyer hired to run tests about the farms told the jury about going over and meeting Jimmy. The professor’s hearsay testimony was that Jimmy has complained about hog “waste” reaching his property – even on him personally.
If that were true, it’s unacceptable. That should never happen.
And then, on Tuesday in the courtroom, the Texas lawyer played the jury a video.
But it didn’t show any of that actually happening. It showed the effluent application at the hog farm occurring way off in the distance, through trees and bushes. Frankly, it was only visible on the horizon from Jimmy’s backyard with a zoomed in view.
Here’s a good look at the situation, with Jimmy’s house on the right and the hog houses way off in the distance to the left. See the trees down the middle (in autumn)?
It should be noted that what is used now at the farm is a “rolling bar” applicator, a system which uses a tractor and applies the fertilizer in a low-to-the-ground method. But Jimmy said he didn’t recognize a photo of that tractor one bit.
And so, eventually, Jimmy was asked by the hog farm lawyer a very simple question.
Where does this odor we keep hearing about come from?
Jimmy said it was right there across the lane, next to his house.
He then literally fingered the source of the problem, marking it with his hand on a map.
It wasn’t the hog farm’s land at all.
It was the field directly west of his home.
A field where human biosolids are regularly applied.
Jimmy looked at a photo and agreed that, yes, that’s where it comes from.
He was certain. No doubt about it, he said.
The Texas lawyer and his people hurriedly passed notes and hunted through files as Jimmy’s dramatic testimony unfolded.
Truth be told, it’s understandable, really, for Jimmy to see a hog house way back in the woods, and then to see application in the field nearby and think that two plus two is four.
Except, in this case, it’s not.
There are other types of application occurring next to him.
Now, let’s be clear about this application. It is regulated, and we don’t assume nor believe that any of the application is arriving at Jimmy’s place. This type of application is what happens, all day, every day, all across North Carolina.
What it does show is that the jury is hearing wildly inconsistent testimony.
You might wonder what happened next in the trial.
Was the case Jimmy brought dismissed? A mistrial declared?
If you follow the logic of the Texas lawyers, did they stop and go find the source of those biosolids – say, a municipality somewhere – to file a lawsuit?
No, Jimmy’s testimony went on. Jimmy talked about all the new homes going up around the farm and it came out that Jimmy himself had moved away for some time – then moved back to Piney Woods Road and chose to live right next to the farm he is now suing.
After a break, Jimmy was back on the stand.
And, as you might imagine, the Texas lawyer wanted to clarify just where Jimmy was saying his problem was coming from.
Jimmy told the Texas lawyer that he had been mixed up when he testified moments before.
It’s the hog farm that’s the problem, Jimmy backtracked, not that other field next door.
And then Jimmy and the Texas lawyer sought to move on, to keep pressing the case against the farm.
Jimmy summed it up for the jury in four words:
“I made a mistake.”
– Andy Curliss, CEO