ATRA says CMD tried to undermine defendant in atrazine class action

Ann Maher Feb. 1, 2012, 9:35am


The American Tort Reform Association says that a "WikiLeaks-like" website published by the Center for Media and Democracy had posted previously unsealed, proprietary documents related to a Madison County atrazine class action to undermine the defendant's standing with the public.

According to records obtained by this paper, between Jan. 9 and 26 had uploaded more than 100 documents related to the Holiday Shores v. Syngenta Crop Protection litigation that originated in 2004 by plaintiff attorney Stephen Tillery.

He is suing Syngenta and other makers of the weed killer in state and federal court claiming the chemical contaminates water supplies.

One of the documents uploaded by SourceWatch was a deposition taken by Tillery of Syngenta communications employee Sherry Ford. The deposition is not part of the record on file at the Madison County courthouse.

Most of the documents were removed on Jan. 29 and 30, following an ATRA posting on Jan. 27, "'Organic' advocates seek to influence Madison County atrazine case," which mentioned the SourceWatch "document dump."

On Tuesday, ATRA's communications director Darren McKinney wrote another post stating that SourceWatch was taking down the documents, "particularly the ones that suggest a direct link between the website and the plaintiffs' attorneys."

McKinney also wrote that online records of the deletions were being erased.

"So much for all that 'transparency' that SourceWatch's sponsor, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), hypocritically insists is always in short supply when it comes to all those big, bad corporations that just happen to employ tens of millions of Americans," he wrote.

Lisa Graves, executive director of CMD, wrote in an email response that the CMD does not comment on ongoing investigations, "including if or when we may proceed on any matter we may or may not be examining," she wrote. She also said that editing logs are "unalterable."

"As SourceWatch is a wiki, the editing logs for articles and documents are unalterable, so any suggestion to the contrary would be false; but I am reviewing the material you reference and per our policy I cannot comment on the materials that are available to the public through this or other litigation or sources."

Graves was provided a copy of a SourceWatch screen shot profile of Sherry Ford, and a screen shot showing the Sherry Ford page as having been deleted. She was also provided a user contribution log from Jan. 26 which showed more than 100 references to the Madison County litigation, including the Sherry Ford deposition and a (Circuit Judge Bill) Mudge order. The same user's log on Jan. 30 showed that a large majority of those page references no longer existed.

In response, Graves said she would not be commenting "in response to the little game you have going between your outlet and ATRF's lies."

McKinney wrote on Jan. 31 that SourceWatch's "Atrazine Exposed" webpage is funded in large part by the organic farming industry, "perhaps designed to undermine Syngenta — the manufacturer of atrazine, a safe and widely used weed killer — in the eyes of future jurors, or otherwise to help pressure the chemical company into a costly settlement with the plaintiffs.

"In any case, CMD and SourceWatch routinely rant and rave about corporations' efforts to influence politics, public policy and the law, but apparently they have no qualms about trying to do so themselves. A victory for the plaintiffs in the atrazine class action, slowly playing out in longstanding judicial hellhole Madison County since 2004, will make conventional farming more costly and thus could make organic farming marginally more competitive. So who's trying to exercise influence now?"

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