Cockfighters may seek compensation if outlawed

Wednesday, December 22nd 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A lawyer for Oklahoma's game fowl breeders is urging officials not spend the state's initial $24.7 million payment from the tobacco settlement because the state may have to compensate those in the cockfighting business if it is outlawed by Oklahoma voters. "Our initial projections are that the cockfighters' entitlement from the state will be three to five times that sum," attorney Larry Oliver wrote in a letter that was faxed Tuesday to Attorney General Drew Edmondson and Gov. Frank Keating.

Cockfighting is legal in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Louisiana, but the Oklahoma Coalition Against Cockfighting has circulated an initiative petition to make it illegal, claiming that it's cruel and inhumane. The coalition turned in the petition with some 105,000 signatures. About 70,000 signatures of state registered voters are needed to get the issue on an election ballot. If the proposal passes, it would be a felony to engage in cockfighting and raise the roosters to fight.

Roosters and cockfighting paraphernalia such as bird pens and weapons would become contraband after a person has been convicted. Spectators at cockfights could be charged with a misdemeanor. Oliver contends that the state constitution allows those in the cockfighting industry to be compensated should their livelihood betaken away. He said that despite any new law, cockfighters wouldn't have to cease doing business until they are paid by the state.

Oliver bases his claims on the state's condemnation law by which it can claim personal property as the state's and pay the owner the fair market value. Gerald Adams, spokesman for Attorney General Edmondson, said his office has not seen Oliver's letter and could not comment. Janet Halliburton, the anticockfighting coalition chairwoman, said Oliver's reasoning is twisted. "On that theory we owe a lot of money to marijuana growers and methamphetamine makers."