By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI
A rancher vows to continue his legal challenge against the national Beef Checkoff even though his original attorneys have decided to exit the court battle.
"We fully intend to pursue the case," said Michael Callicrate, a Colorado rancher and plaintiff in the litigation.
A federal judge recently allowed attorneys to withdraw from Callicrate's lawsuit, which alleges that national Beef Checkoff dollars intended for promotions were unlawfully misused for lobbying.
The complaint claims the National Cattlemen's Beef Association trade group has domineered the organization that administers checkoff dollars, the Cattlemen's Beef Board, thereby steering money into prohibited uses.
NCBA has said the accusations are without merit.
Attorneys from the Polsinelli Shughart law firm originally represented Callicrate but then asked to quit the case due to a conflict of interest.
The law firm said another client was in discussions with USDA, which oversees the checkoff program and is named as a defendant in the complaint.
Callicrate argued his lawyers had no grounds for withdrawing and later told Capital Press they were likely quitting due to pressure from the meat industry.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Gary Sebelius has rejected his objections, ruling that the attorneys met the conditions needed to withdraw from the case.
Callicrate previously said in court documents that he might not be able to continue the case without the law firm's "pro bono" representation.
However, the lawsuit has attracted strong support and other attorneys have since expressed a willingness to assist with the lawsuit without compensation, he said.
"A lot of people want to see the misuse of their checkoff dollars end," Callicrate said. "Independent producers are tired of paying the marketing costs of industrial producers."
Callicrate said he hopes the USDA will soon release an overdue internal audit that shows how checkoff dollars have been spent, then halt money from flowing to the NCBA.
The investigation's results would be disclosed during the litigation process unless the USDA voluntarily turns over the report and takes action, he said. "If not, we're going to go forward aggressively."