Agribusiness  April 10, 2024

Animal advocates sue CSU, allege open-records violation

FORT COLLINS – Lawyers with an animal-rights legal advocacy group based at the University of Denver’s law school sued Colorado State University on Wednesday over what it alleges is the school’s failure to comply with the Colorado Open Records Act.

The Animal Activist Legal Defense Project at DU’s Sturm College of Law filed the complaint on behalf of the group Animal Partisan, accusing CSU’s records custodian, Linda Schutjer, of excessive delay in responding to the group’s request for records, inadequately searching for the records, asserting specious exemptions from release, and possibly destroying records.

A trial date has yet to be set for the civil case, but a spokesperson in the Larimer County District Attorney’s Office told BizWest it has been assigned to District Judge Juan Villaseñor.

Animal Partisan had sought footage of cows at a commercial slaughter facility from a study conducted at CSU that the group said was “directly funded by the beef industry.”

“There is a substantial, nefarious and largely unknown relationship between the animal agriculture industry and academia,” said Steffen Seitz, litigation fellow with the DU project, in a prepared statement. “Too often, researchers compromise their independence and shill for Big Ag. Here, CSU researchers sought to make the slaughter of cows more efficient for meatpackers, then hide it from the public — to such an extent CSU has broken the law.”

Animal Partisan had filed a CORA request seeking photos, video footage and audio recordings of cows at the commercial slaughter facility that were part of a CSU study aimed at developing a standardized method to address the impact of mud on cows in slaughterhouses. The CSU researchers sought to help the meatpacking industry avoid the costly impacts of mud, including contamination and inefficient slaughter. The study was published in the journal Meat Science in 2021.

According to the DU news release, the complaint alleges that, in response to the request, “CSU’s records custodian asserted different exemptions at different times; admitted CSU intended to withhold the images out of concern over “animal rights activities”; expressed worry over angering commercial slaughter facilities if the images were released, thus jeopardizing future meat industry-CSU collaboration; claimed Google had deleted the files from the researcher’s personal drive, although Google’s policy seemingly contradicts such a claim; and took months to even provide a response to Animal Partisan’s request, although CORA guidance on a reasonable timeframe for responding is three working days or less.”

“Open-records laws exist so that citizens can better participate in a democracy with an understanding of what their government is doing,” said Will Lowrey, legal counsel with Animal Partisan, in a prepared statement. “Colorado State is prioritizing corporate meat industry interests over the right of private citizens to know what the government is up to, and we believe this lawsuit is an important step to check this abuse of power.”

A statement from the university that was emailed to BizWest late Wednesday said “CSU learned about the lawsuit today. We will review the allegations and respond accordingly.”

The case is Animal Partisan v. Linda Schutjer, in her official capacity as a records

custodian of Colorado State University. Case No. 24CV30280, Larimer County District Court.

FORT COLLINS – Lawyers with an animal-rights legal advocacy group based at the University of Denver’s law school sued Colorado State University on Wednesday over what it alleges is the school’s failure to comply with the Colorado Open Records Act.

The Animal Activist Legal Defense Project at DU’s Sturm College of Law filed the complaint on behalf of the group Animal Partisan, accusing CSU’s records custodian, Linda Schutjer, of excessive delay in responding to the group’s request for records, inadequately searching for the records, asserting specious exemptions from release, and possibly destroying records.

A trial date has yet to be set…

Dallas Heltzell
With BizWest since 2012 and in Colorado since 1979, Dallas worked at the Longmont Times-Call, Colorado Springs Gazette, Denver Post and Public News Service. A Missouri native and Mizzou School of Journalism grad, Dallas started as a sports writer and outdoor columnist at the St. Charles (Mo.) Banner-News, then went to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before fleeing the heat and humidity for the Rockies. He especially loves covering our mountain communities.
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