When he embarked on his strange and opportunistic quest to challenge a California law regarding eggs and hens, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said he thought the case would cost the state less than $10,000.
That sounded optimistic and lo and behold, it was. Records from the attorney general’s office show that the state has paid $83,711 for outside legal services, expert testimony and other expenses.
It’s not the biggest waste of taxpayer money we’ve ever seen, but it’s quite a bit for a lawsuit that was inadvisable from the start and swiftly dismissed by a federal judge in California.
Put another way, it’s a lot of money for Koster, the ambitious Democrat with his eye on the governor’s office, to show big agricultural interests that he’s in their corner.
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Koster’s press secretary, Nanci Gonder, said the $10,000 figure was misconstrued.
“The earlier estimate related to the anticipated cost of obtaining a temporary restraining order,” she said. “The actual costs incurred were to develop evidence for a full hearing on a preliminary injunction, which involved expert testimony.”
Make of that what you will; there is no record of the attorney general’s office formally seeking a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction.
Koster cited the $10,000 figure in a Kansas City Star report on his lawsuit.
Koster sued over a 2010 California law that requires out-of-state egg producers to meet the humane standards set in a 2008 California ballot measure. Voters said they wanted to eat eggs produced by hens who have enough room in their cages to stand up, spread their wings and turn around.
Koster claimed that standard imposed an unfair economic burden on Missouri egg producers, who will have to refit their cages if they want to sell eggs in the big California market. He contended the Commerce Clause in the U.S. Constitution prevents one state from regulating the agricultural practices of other states. Eventually five additional states joined his suit.
But California has survived a legal challenge to its ban on the sale of foie gras, with the courts ruling that no state’s commerce was restricted because the law treated in-state and out-of-state producers the same. U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller made the same point when dismissing Koster’s lawsuit.
“Nothing before the court supports the conclusion this action is brought by plaintiffs because their residents face imminent injury as a result of California‘s shell egg laws, or that their residents in general intend to or are even capable of violating California‘s shell egg laws,” she wrote. “Plaintiffs also point to nothing to show the threat of prosecution of their egg farmers is imminent.”
Koster has not said whether he plans to appeal Mueller’s ruling. Gonder addressed my inquiry with a pointed emailed reply: “Your opinion continues to differ from ours regarding the significance of this litigation, and the dangers of the unlimited reach of the California legislature in national agricultural affairs.”
So, hmmm. We might not have seen the last of this. Which would be unfortunate. Many egg-laying hens are raised in deplorable conditions, stuffed into waste-strewn cages without room to move about or spread their wings. Many customers, and even a number of egg producers, are willing to change that. Koster should not be getting in the way.
Regarding the expenses, records show that Koster’s office paid an economist $36,351. A second economist was paid $17,202 and an animal scientist received $17,862. The experts were not named, because they have not been disclosed to opposing counsel, according to one of Koster’s assistants.
The California-based law firm of Coleman & Horowitt was paid $5,932. “Employee expenses” amounted to $6,321.06 and a court reporter was paid $44.
To reach Barbara Shelly, call 816-234-4594 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bshelly.