Judge says PETA ‘possum drop’ case can continue

05/26/2014 12:00 AM

02/15/2015 11:23 AM

The Brasstown possum was back in court on Friday, figuratively speaking.

Lawyers for the state and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals squared off again in what is turning out to be a long-running dispute over the New Year’s Eve “Possum Drop” in the Clay County community.

Last year a legal battle was waged almost right up to the end of the year, ending with a superior court judge ruling against PETA’s challenge to the state Wildlife Resources Commission’s authority to issue a license to capture and display an opossum for 2013 and 2014.

The New Year’s Eve event went on, and the opossum was lowered at midnight in a plexiglass box 6 feet long, 3 feet wide and 3 feet tall with a den area, as required by the license. But the den was supposed to be a place the animal could retreat from sight, and the entrance left it fully exposed, according to PETA.

In January, PETA learned through a deposition that the wildlife officer who was supposed to have inspected the box before the New Year’s Eve event had not. Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour then issued an order requiring event organizer Clay Logan to apply for another 2014 license. Procedurally, PETA’s next move had to be in the Office of Administrative Hearings.

In February PETA petitioned an administrative law judge for a ruling that the commission unlawfully issued the license and failed to revoke it when the Possum Drop wasn’t conducted as it was supposed to. On Friday, Judge Fred Morrison Jr. denied the state’s motion to dismiss the petition, denied PETA’s motion to rule in its favor and ordered a full hearing later.

In 2012, Morrison had ruled the commission couldn’t issue a permit to Logan unless there was a change in state law, and so the General Assembly made that change last year, although the new law didn’t specify opossums or the Brasstown event specifically.

Lawmakers aren’t playing possum. In light the legal uncertainties, Rep. Roger West, who represents the mountain region in the southwest corner of the state, filed a bill last week specifically tailored to Brasstown. It was approved in committee on Thursday and the full House is scheduled to vote on it this week.

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