No cultural defense for cockfighting in Hawaii, judge rules; federal case pending
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2004:
NEW ORLEANS–Eighteen months after filing a “cultural
defense” lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Lafayette, Louisiana,
which has yet to be heard by Judge Rebecca F. Doherty, the United
Gamefowl Breeders Association still hopes a claim of discrimination
will overturn the two-year-old U.S. law prohibiting interstate
transport of gamecocks.
The anti-gamecock transport law appears to be untested in
court. There have been no prominent prosecutions.
But the legal theory behind the case against it was on August
31, 2004 rejected by Hawaii 2nd Circuit Court Judge Joel August.
August ruled in an 11-page verdict that even though the Hawaii
constitution protects native customs and traditions, and native
Hawaiians practiced a form of cockfighting called haka moa before
Hawaii was annexed by the U.S., cockfighting does not fit the
definitions of protected activity.
The plaintiffs did not make a case or even press a claim that
haka moa was demonstrably integral to practicing the native Hawaiian
religion, August pointed out. Neither could the practice of haka
moa be called a subsistence right.
“Subsistence rights have traditionally concerned water,
access, and gathering,” August wrote. “The court concludes that
cockfighting, legally regarded as cruelty to animals, has
absolutely no connection with subsistence rights.”
The clinching argument against cockfighting, however, was
that it was banned by the native Hawaiian legislative assembly in
1884, during the reign of King David Kalakaua, nine years before
the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.
The pending Louisiana case was filed in May 2003 by Tulane
University law professor John R. Kramer. Kramer argues that the
federal ban on interstate gamecock transport discriminates against
Cajuns in Louisiana and Hispanic residents of New Mexico by
interfering with their ability to practice their traditional culture.
Attorneys for the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
filed a rebuttal in January 2004.
Efforts to ban cockfighting in Louisiana and New Mexico are
favored by most residents of both states, including 71% of the
Hispanic voters in New Mexico, according to recent polls. A survey
of 503 likely voters in Louisiana, jointly commissioned by the Fund
for Animals and the Humane Society of the U.S., found in May 2004
that 82% oppose cockfighting, including 90% of the women and 71% of
With the debate smouldering, the 500-seat Hickory Recreation
Club cockfighting area in Hickory, Louisiana burned to the ground on
August 8. Graffiti sprayed on a nearby metal storage shed identified
the fire as an arson by the Animal Liberation Front, but
investigators appeared to focus on other possible arsonists and
In Dallas, Texas, police on August 23, 2004 found the
remains of Jose Guadalupe Obregon, 34, and his nephew, Roman
Obregon, 18, at a three-acre construction site amid an estimated
1,500 gamecocks, including as many as 900 fighting birds and 30
breeding hens. Both men were shot repeatedly at close range. Police
said they had no witnesses to the murders, no motive, and no
Big busts in N.J., S.C.
Five men were arrested on charges including illegal
possession of drugs and cockfighting paraphernalia between September
5 and September 10, 2004 in Howell, New Jersey.
The alleged ringleader, Raphael Leonard, 70, was charged
in 1982 with illegally keeping gamecocks at the same rented site.
About 1,400 gamecocks were seized this time, nearly as many as the
state record 1,500 confiscated in 2001 from a site in Bordentown.
“Unfortunately, most of us only learned last week that
cockfighting remains a serious problem in South Carolina,” state
house speaker David Wilkins (R-Greenville) declared on August 3,
pledging to introduce a bill to prosecute cockfighting as a felony in
December, following fall elections.
Wilkins spoke after the July 29 arrest of South Carolina
agriculture commissioner Charles Sharpe, 67, a former Republican
legislator, for alleged extortion and money-laundering. The
24-page, 12-count federal indictment “alleges that Sharpe, who as a
legislator pressed to make cockfighting legal in South Carolina,
accepted $15,000 in illegal and undeclared contributions in September
2002 from the South Carolina Gamefowl Management Association,” wrote
Jim Nesbitt and Stephen Gurr of the Augusta Chronicle.
Sharpe, who pleaded innocent, was not charged with an
offense for accepting $10,500 from the gamefowl group that he did
“The Spartanburg-based group ran an Aiken County cockfighting
arena which was first known as The Testing Facility,” pretending to
be doing agricultural research, “and later as the Carolina club,”
added Nesbitt and Gurr.
A November 2003 raid on the club seized $50,000 in cash and
brought citations against 118 persons found in attendance at a
South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford immediately suspended
Sharpe. Sanford accepted a campaign contribution of $2,500 in
January 2003 from the cockfighting club, but told Nesbitt that he
thought it came from a duck hunting club.
The facility was officially suspected of hosting illegal
cockfights as early as March 2001, correspondence between the Aiken
County Sheriff’s Office and former South Carolina attorney general
Charlie Condon revealed.
Sharpe’s wife, Aiken County treasurer Linda Sharpe, was not
charged, but former South Carolina Law Enforcement Department agent
Keith Bernard Stokes, 40, of Lexington, was indicted for
allegedly lying to federal investigators about warning members of the
South Caroline Gamefowl Management Association that they were being