Attorney tells appeals court that judge acted improperly


Capital Press

The Cargill company claims a federal jury was biased in rejecting the agricultural giant's legal complaint against several former employees who launched a competing feed business.

During oral arguments in appellate court, an attorney for Cargill argued that a federal judge allowed the jury to be prejudiced by allegations made in other lawsuits related to the firm's livestock feed operations.

By permitting the jury to hear claims that Cargill improperly substituted ingredients in feed sold to farmers -- as alleged in lawsuits filed in Idaho and Louisiana -- the judge committed a legal error, said Mark Ryan, an attorney for the firm.

Ryan urged the three-judge panel with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the jury verdict and order a new trial, saying the allegations were irrelevant to Cargill's lawsuit against the former employees.

In that lawsuit, which Cargill lost in 2008, the company claimed three employees -- Matthew Budine, Luciana Jonkman and Brian Sundberg -- stole intellectual property for the benefit of their new venture, Progressive Dairy Solutions.

The defendants' counsel used the allegations to depict Cargill as a bad company that cheated its customers, Ryan said.

"It had nothing to do with trade secrets or if they were entitled to walk out the door with those trade secrets," he said. "They're appealing to the emotions of the jury."

Jeffrey Ehrlich, an attorney for the former employees, said there's no evidence the jury rejected Cargill's complaint because they'd been "whipped into a frenzy" with the allegations of ingredient substitution.

"This was not a jury wielding torches and pitchforks who had it in for Cargill," Ehrlich said.

The judge properly allowed evidence from other lawsuits to be heard in the case because the allegations established an alternative reason for the employees' departure, he said.

Cargill claimed their motive was simply greed, so the defendants had the right to show evidence they'd quit due to other concerns, Ehrlich said.

Arguments were completed Thursday, Dec. 10.

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