Winning the Case against a Coyote Killing ContestPosted by Jessica Blome, ALDF Staff Attorney on July 25, 2014
ALDF has just settled an important case and shut down an illegal gambling operation and coyote killing contest. I learned about Duane Freilino’s coyote killing contest in early January, 2013—when I was just beginning week 32 of my pregnancy. As part of an annual tradition, Freilino planned to host a three-day coyote killing spree in the high desert of Harney County, Oregon. The winners of Freilino’s contest—the hunter who killed the most coyotes in three days; the hunter who killed the largest male coyote; the child who killed the most coyotes—would win thousands of dollars in cash prizes, an automatic rifle, and bragging rights. Moreover, hunters would place bets on who they thought would advance in a Caclutta-style hunting auction designed to encourage hunters to kill.
Photographs of the previous seven contests depicted smiling hunters garnishing automatic rifles atop piles of coyote carcasses. The very idea sickened me: What right do we have to kill a class of animals en masse simply for fun? What effect would the mass killing of a single species have on the delicate balance that is ecosystem self-management? What about the coyote’s right to peaceful coexistence?
After some research, I learned coyotes can be killed anytime without limit in Oregon—an injustice that is common in nearly every state. However, the Oregon General Assembly has decided that gambling is a public nuisance as a matter of law. Two weeks after learning about Freilino’s plan, ALDF, Project Coyote, and its members asked the judge to stop Freilino’s coyote killing contest because killing for prizes and betting on those winners is gambling—whether the instrument of risk is a poker chip or a rifle.
Determined to stop the kills, the week of the contest we raced up to Oregon to file the temporary restraining order. At nearly nine months pregnant, I flew up on a tiny little plane, drove four hours through the high desert without cell service or gas station, and then had to stay in a remote rural town. But the trip was worth it in the end because the judge agreed the lawsuit had legal merit.
After that initial hearing, Freilino countersued ALDF, Project Coyote, and their members on meritless grounds for $100,000. ALDF responded quickly by filing a motion to strike Freilino’s counter lawsuit because Freilino’s only purpose was to stifle ALDF’s First Amendment right to challenge his killing contest in court.
Freilino learned that suing charities based on unfounded accusations violates those charities’ First Amendment rights to free speech and public participation. Ultimately, Freilino’s frivolous countersuit cost him more than $5,000 in attorney’s fees and a lifetime ban on hunting contests. In the aftermath of our victory, I hope hunters planning participate in similar killing contests heed this serious lesson.