Furrier Must Pay Protesters' Legal Fees
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Furrier Must Pay Protesters' Legal Fees

by BRYAN DENSON
The Oregonian Staff

A federal judge this week described Portland furrier Gregg Schumacher's failed lawsuit against a rabble of animal-rights protesters an "extraordinary abuse" of the civil courts and directed him to pay $96,870 to cover his foes' legal fees.

U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman ordered Schumacher and his wife, Linda, to pay for the legal representation of the very people the couple sought to punish. His ruling, made public Friday, said the Schumachers had, without evidence, wrongly tried to restrict the protesters' free-speech rights.

The Schumachers' $6.6 million suit "disparaged their reputations with accusations of criminal conduct, terrorist affiliations, and responsibility for 'shutting down' a business whose financial solvency was questionable before the protesting activities began," Mosman wrote in an opinion and order signed Wednesday.

"This," he wrote, "was an extraordinary abuse of the litigation process."

Mosman's ruling troubled a few downtown retailers. One of them, John Helmer, whose family has operated a men's store since 1921, thought the decision might set a precedent for other protests.

"It's a little scary," he said. "Retailing is tough enough without an issue like that -- it's an attack on your livelihood."

Last April, the Schumachers responded to 18 months of noisy demonstrations outside their downtown Portland fur salon by filing a civil rights lawsuit against their alleged tormenters.

The suit named two national animal-rights groups, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and In Defense of Animals; more than 20 protesters (most of them unidentified); and the Animal Liberation Front, an underground group characterized by the FBI as a domestic terrorism organization.

The Schumachers' suit also named the city. They accused police officers of looking the other way as throngs of demonstrators, some of them partially nude, blocked the entrance to the salon, shouted obscenities and threats and followed customers leaving the store.

But in a series of rulings late last year, Mosman dismissed the claims against the animal-rights groups, the city of Portland and a few individual protesters identified by the Schumachers.

Mosman wrote in Wednesday's order that he was sympathetic to the Schumachers' claims against unidentified protesters, who had stepped past protected free speech and occasionally left sidewalks, windows and doors at the salon "befouled by fecal matter, urine, chalk and red paint."

Still, he wrote, the named defendants could not be blamed for the actions of unidentified lawbreakers.

Gregg Schumacher could not be reached to comment about this week's order. His attorney, Herb Grey, declined comment.

Schumacher announced plans to close his salon in February 2007, saying the protesters had driven his family's century-old business out of Portland. Protesters quickly rejoiced. But the family business was financially moribund a year before animal-rights activists came to roost, The Oregonian reported last July.

An attorney for PETA said Friday she was satisfied that Mosman awarded the group $43,185. Lawyers for In Defense of Animals were awarded $34,735, and an attorney for protester Kevin Mieras was granted $18,950.

"The judge said this was an extraordinary abuse of the litigation process," said Bonnie Robson, PETA's deputy general counsel for civil matters. "We believe the Schumachers also engaged in an extraordinary abuse of animals, who were killed for their skins."

Tony Spear, who since 1980 has run Este's Men's Clothing in the Pearl District, called the ruling a black eye for the city and disagreed that the Schumachers' lawsuit lacked merit.

"Everybody has the right to do what it takes to protect their business," Spear said, "especially a family-owned business."

 

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