By PEGGY McCRACKEN
PECOS, March 22, 1996 - Federal court jurors on Thursday found that a
Texas Youth Commission employee was not sexually harassed on the job and
due no damages.
Danny Guadarrama of Kermit claims he was sexually harassed and
wrongfully discharged from the West Texas State School in Pyote, where
he was employed from 1986 to 1994.
Numerous witnesses testified during the three-day trial, including women
who had filed sexual harassment charges against Guadarrama.
The jury deliberated seven hours before returning the verdict Thursday
By PEGGY McCRACKEN
PECOS, March 28, 1996 - Senior Judge Lucius Bunton has signed a judgment
awarding Merco Joint Venture $2 in actual damages and $5 million in
punitive damages and denied TriStar Television Inc. $50,000 damages
sought in a counterclaim.
Merco sued TriStar and Hugh B. Kaufman for $60 million, claiming its
reputation was damaged by a nine-minute "Sludge Train" segment of a "TV
Nation" show broadcast Aug. 2, 1994.
The show followed municipal waste from first flush in New York City to
Sierra Blanca, where Merco is spreading sludge on a 128,000 acre ranch.
Negative comments from Sierra Blanca residents and from Kaufman were
broadcast, while positive comments by Merco employees and others were
cut from the film, court testimony showed.
After a week-long trial, a six-person jury found that TriStar and
Kaufman should each pay Merco $1 in actual damages.
Kaufman, who said on the show that Merco's sludge ranch is an illegal
haul and dump operation that is poisoning the people of Texas, was
assessed $500,000 in punitive damages.
TriStar is to pay $4.5 million.
In the judgment, Bunton said, "Although the ratio of actual to punitive
damages is large, this Court specifically instructed the jury that any
award of punitive damages must bear a reasonable relationship to any
award of actual damages.
"Moreover, at the time of this cause of action, there was no statutory
ratio or limitation applicable to an intentional tort. Consequently, it
is the Court's opinion the jury was instructed properly and that the
respective amounts of punitive damages awarded to Plaintiff was, in
their minds, reasonable."
Defendants are to pay all costs of court. Each party is to pay its own
Sony Pictures, which owns TriStar Television, has said they will appeal
From staff and wire reports
Congress' decision to move U.S. Border Patrol agents from interior
stations will hurt the war against drugs and other crime-fighting
efforts, law enforcement agents say.
Town meetings are underway at area cities this week to allow citizens to
support or oppose the move.
Joe Harris, assistant chief at the Marfa Border Patrol sector
headquarters, said today that the Pecos station will not lose any
personnel. However, Midland, Lubbock and Amarillo may be affected.
"Town meetings are going on as we speak," Harris said.
In Carlsbad, N.M. Tuesday, about 45 sheriffs, police chiefs and city,
state and federal agency representatives spoke out against the move
during a meeting with the regional directors of the Border Patrol and
its parent agency, the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
The congressional mandate will move 212 Border Patrol agents from
interior offices to the U.S.-Mexico border. The agents will be replaced
by INS special agents, who will focus more on immigration issues and
less on the roving patrols and narcotics work the Border Patrol has
become known for.
The reshuffling is expected to be complete by Sept. 30.
But area law enforcement officials protested that Border Patrol agents
are a vital part of law enforcement.
Carlsbad Police Chief Jim Koch said Border Patrol agents have been
instrumental in helping with illegal drug cases and that losing the
agents could hurt departments like his, which have small narcotics
``This will diminish the ability of law enforcement,'' Koch said.
Replacement INS agents would not be in uniform and therefore would not
be visible to the public, costing a deterrence factor, said Dick Ness,
executive director of the New Mexico Sheriff's and Police Association.
``Their presence and marked units make a difference throughout the
state,'' he said.
Roswell Police Chief Ray Mounts said he is concerned that new agents
will not be involved in local law enforcement.
``They wrote into law all these mandates for pro-active, community
policing,'' he said. ``Now, it looks like to me these new agents will
only be reactive. It doesn't make sense.''
New Mexico State Police Lt. James Woods said cutting the number of
Border Patrol agents on the state's highways could endanger state
``We have traditionally relied on Border Patrol agents to back us up
when we are patrolling,'' Woods said. ``Very often, when we pull someone
over there may not be another officer within a hundred miles. But Border
Patrol agents have often been there to provide safe backup.''
By PEGGY McCRACKEN
PECOS, March 27, 1996 - Despite his claim that he didn't know the truck
he was driving had marijuana in the gas tank, federal court jurors on
Monday deliberated just 15 minutes before convicting Luis Gutierrez-Diaz
of possessing marijuana with intent to deliver.
Gutierrez, 39, of Pomona, Calif. was arrested Feb. 3 after crossing the
Rio Grande enroute from Ojinaga, Mex. to California.
Senior Judge Lucius Bunton set sentencing for May 2. The maximum
punishment, with the enhancement of possession of more than 50 kilograms
of marijuana, is 20 years in prison, three years supervised release and
a $1 million fine.
Testimony continued today before Judge Bunton in a civil suit styled
Guadarrama vs. Texas Youth Commission. Jurors began hearing evidence
By PEGGY McCRACKEN
PECOS, March 27, 1996 - Testimony began this morning in a civil rights
suit filed in federal court against the Texas Youth Commission.
Danny Guadarrama of Kermit claims he was sexually harassed and
wrongfully discharged from the West Texas State School in Pyote.
His attorney, Cindy Weir-Ervin of Odessa, said that Guadarrama began
work at WTSS as a dorm supervisor in 1986 and was promoted to the
recreation department the next year, receiving numerous commendations
from his supervisors.
Marcella Morenko was his supervisor in the recreation department,
Weir-Ervin said. After sexual allegations were made on both sides over a
period of time, Guadarrama left his position at WTSS in 1994.
"He loved his job," Weir-Ervin said. "He would take it back today. He
misses the kids. But once he crossed Morenko and some other people, he
Lori Bien, an assistant attorney general who represents the TYC, said
that Guadarrama didn't complain about the sexual harassment he now
claims until Morenko filed a complaint about him.
"This is an attempt to get back at the TYC," she said.
Morenko and two other female employees filed complaints that Guadarrama
followed them around and gave them gifts, Bien said.
And Guadarrama violated TYC policy by discussing alleged staff sexual
activities with the students, she said.
When he was transferred from the recreation department back to a dorm
and assigned to a two-week training program in Corsicana, Guadaramma
filed a grievance, she said. "He wanted to stay in the recreation
department where he had allegedly been perpetually sexually harassed,"
Guadarrama got a doctor's excuse not to work, and he refused to return
work even as he was looking for another job, Bien said.
PECOS, March 14, 1996 - Federal judges from throughout the Western
District of Texas and from New Mexico will be among special guests for a
barbecue tonight and the dedication of the Lucius D. Bunton III United
States Courthouse Friday.
Seating for the 11 a.m. Friday dedication is limited to invited guests,
but a reception for the general public begins at 12 noon, said District
Judge Royal Furgeson.
Entertainment by the Pecos High School Mariachi Band, refreshments and
tours guided by Pecos Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors will be features
of the afternoon session.
Pecos Mayor Dot Stafford will welcome out-of-town guests during the
dedication ceremony in the district courtroom. Dick Alligood will
present a plaque in appreciation of Judge Bunton, who has served the
Pecos Division since his federal appointment in 1979.
Judge Bunton will introduce federal personnel. Chief Judge Harry Lee
Hudspeth and Judge Furgeson will also speak.
The courthouse was constructed by Dominion Leasing of Edmond, Okla. and
leased to the General Services Administration for 20 years.
By PEGGY McCRACKEN
PECOS, March 12, 1996 - A $1 million damage suit filed in 143rd District
Court in Monahans against the Permian Basin Drug Task Force and three of
its officers; Ector County, and the city of Monahans and its police
chief was removed last week to federal court in Pecos.
Marie Kitchen, individually and as next friend of Cory and Kiya Moore;
and Billie Ann Anderson, as next friend of James Anderson, claims task
force and police officers violated their constitutional rights.
Watts and the city of Monahans filed a general denial and the notice of
removal. Ector County filed a denial that they have any connection with
the drug task force, other than supporting it financially.
Plaintiffs claim that investigators and police officers, armed with a
search warrant for a residence at 2210 S. Betty in Monahans, entered
their trailer house at that address on June 8, 1994.
Kitchen, who owns the trailer, said that officers illegally entered the
residence by kicking in the front door and forcing the back door open to
execute a natrcotics search warrant at the wrong address.
While inside the residence, the officers used excessive force and
agressive and abusive language to restrain 71-year-old Bertha Moore.
They forced James Anderson, 13, to the floor and held him with a gun
pointed directly at the back of his head, the petition alleges.
They also used unnecessary physical force to restrain Kitchen and her
minor sons, Kiya Moore and Cory Moore and then conducted an illegal and
unnecessary search of their property and person. They seek $1 million
actual damages, plus punitive damages in an unspecified amount.
By PEGGY McCRACKEN
PECOS, March 10, 1996 - Hugh Kaufman, an Environmental Protection Agency
whistle blower, and TriStar Television Inc. are expected to appeal a $5
million verdict returned Friday by a federal jury at the close of a
week-long trial in the Pecos Division courtroom.
The jury found that Kaufman and TriStar defamed Merco Join Venture in a
"TV Nation" segment titled "Sludge Train" on Aug. 2, 1994; that the
defamatory statements were false and made with malice.
False, commercially disparaging statements were made on the program, and
Kaufman and TriStar knew it, the jury found. They awarded Merco $1 in
actual damages from each of the defendants.
They awarded punitive damages of $500,000 against Kaufman, who said on
the show that Merco's application of New York sludge on a Sierra Blanca
ranch is an illegal haul and dump operation which is poisoning the
people of Texas.
TriStar should pay Merco $4.5 million for broadcasting the statements,
the jury decided.
Punitive damages send a message to others that they cannot libel the
good name of an individual or company, said Joseph Tydings, Merco's lead
``I think the jury was deeply offended that a program such as this would
receive any Emmy,'' Tydings told the Associated Press following the
verdict. ``I think it was reflected in the punitive damages.''
Kaufman, who said he planned to appeal, said his statements were true
and should have been legally protected opinion.
``The jury ruled that my making a statement based on that opinion was
malice,'' he said. ``If I had a newspaper in Texas, I'd shut down the
Merco claimed the show damaged its reputation and put future business
deals into jeopardy.
Film producer Michael Moore said ``TV Nation'' was a humorous series
``dealing with the issues'' that aired briefly on NBC affiliates in
summer 1994. The series earned Moore an Emmy as an outstanding
Testifying earlier this week, Moore said the general idea for the sludge
segment was to do something with garbage and pollution.
``My original idea was a garbage barge,'' Moore said. ``We made
inquiries if we could ride a garbage barge, but couldn't. Then someone
found out about the sludge train from New York.''
Moore contended that since the show was not a news show, the program did
not have to adhere to the same journalistic ethics as a documentary.
``People liked the show mostly because it was humorous and it had
substance to it,'' Moore testified. ``It dealt with things people were
Moore first gained fame with a humorous documentary film, ``Roger and
Me,'' in which he sought to talk to General Motors chairman Roger Smith
about the closing of an automobile plant in Moore's hometown in
By PEGGY McCRACKEN
PECOS, March 6, 1996 - U.S. District Judge Royal Furgeson has withdrawn
a 1981 order that criminal suspects arrested in the 10-county Pecos
Division of federal court be brought to Pecos for all court action.
Under his new order, all arrestees will be taken to the nearest
magistrate judge in the Western District of Texas, without regard to
whether the magistrate judge is located in the Pecos, El Paso or
The magistrate judge who handles the initial appearance will also handle
any necessary detention and preliminary hearings.
However, felony cases will be tried in Pecos under the order. Any case
which originates in the Pecos Division will be filed and prosecuted in
the Pecos Division, unless the case has a significant connection with
another division in the Western District which would justify the case
being filed there, he ordered.
Judge Furgeson requested that the U.S. Attorney for the Western District
prepare a monthly statistical report for the court detailing how this
change in orders is affecting the three divisions so that the impact of
the order can be monitored by the court through May 31, 1996.
His action comes after numerous complaints by law enforcement officers,
prosecutors and public defenders that traveling to Pecos for court puts
a strain on their manpower and budgets.
DEA agents in El Paso have been especially vocal about the 1981 order by
then-district judge Lucius Bunton, which required them to drive 80 miles
to Sierra Blanca to pick up a suspect, then another 120 miles to bring
him to Pecos for initial appearance before a magistrate.
Judge Furgeson said he believes his new order will increase criminal
felony case filings in Pecos, where a new federal courthouse is under
By PEGGY McCRACKEN
PECOS, March 8, 1996 - Attorneys for Merco Joint Venture, TriStar
Television and Hugh Kaufman spent the morning summing up evidence
presented over the past four days in the federal court trial over a
"Sludge Train" story.
Merco claims they were damaged the tune of $30.4 million and asked for
an additional $30 million to send a message that the media cannot
publish stories they know to be false and defamatory.
Kaufman, an EPA whistle blower, has the right under the first amendment
to the U.S. Constitution to state his belief that the sludge Merco is
applying on a Sierra Blanca ranch is poisoning the people and is an
"illegal haul and dump operation," said his attorney, Martha Evans.
Dan Davison said that TriStar Television has the right to air Kaufman's
statements and those of Sierra Blanca residents who oppose sludge
application in their backyard.
The "TV Nation" production that triggered the suit won an Emmy award
for its producer, Michael Moore.
That Emmy was the motivation for the piece, said Joseph Tydings,
representing Merco. He said the "hatchet job" was outlined in a writer's
game plan memo early in the project, and the final product followed the
suggested story line, he said.
Davison denied there was a game plan, citing Moore's testimony that the
story was his idea and Fran Alswang's testimony that the story line
developed as she researched and interviewed people.
Merco called 23 witnesses, but presented no evidence that it had been
damaged, and their motivation for filing the suit was to send a message
that they will attack corporations and citizens who speak out against
them, he said.
Economist Wayne Ruhter testified that Merco is making more money than
they did before the show, Davison said.
Testimony on both sides of the issue proves that land application of
sludge is controversial, and public discussion of controverisal issues
is vital, he said, pointing to the banning of DDT, asbestos and lead in
gasoline and paint.
"Those are things at one point in our past the government scientists
thought were safe," he said. "but at some point they started to disagree
and it became public. It was debated and science went forward."
Tydings said the issue is not first amendment rights to express an
opinion, but libel.
The tort of libel protects the right of all citizens to keep their good
name and reputation without fear of reckless, wanton lies, he said.
"That's a tremendously important right...We believe in free speech with
all our hearts. But with free speech is responsibility to tell the
truth," he said.
"If the First Amendment is being eroded, it is being eroded from within
by the few journalists who hide behind it," he said. "We agree they have
the right to express an opinion, but they don't have the right to lie
about us; broadcast false statements."
False statements alluded to were Bill Addington's statement that someone
set fire to his lumberyard because of his opposition to sludge and to
Kaufman's claims of poisoning and illegal dumping.
Evans told the jury their decision would have a far-reaching effect.
"We live in a world of big government and big corporations, and we need
someone on the inside like Hugh Kaufman to let us know what's going on."
Lewis Herrin, an employee of the Texas Natural Resources Conservation
Commission, testified Thursday that he would not have approved Merco's
application for sludge registration had he known they were not qualified
to business in Texas at the time, she said.
Herrin also found the sludge did not comply with New York's regulations
on the use of copper, but "he was under orders to process Merco's
application as quickly as possible," she said.
Kaufman believed the Merco operation was illegal in Texas then, and that
application of heavy metals is a long-term health risk to the people of
Sierra Blanca, she said.
Merco has a $168 million contract to accept New York City sludge for six
years. New York officials have indicated they will renew the contract
when it expires in 1968, Davison said.
By PEGGY McCRACKEN
PECOS, March 6, 1996 - Seven Sierra Blanca High School senior history
and legal studies students got a lesson in courtroom procedure Tuesday
when they attended the sludge-TV trial underway in federal court.
Merco Joint Venture, who is applying New York City sludge (aka
biosolids) to a Sierra Blanca ranch, claims they were slandered by a "TV
Nation" broadcast Aug. 2, 1994.
Hugh Kaufman, an employee of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
said on the broadcast that Merco is poisoning the people of Texas. Under
questioning by Merco lawyers this morning, Kaufman denied that the EPA
has ordered him not to speak on their behalf.
"I can speak on areas where I have official authority," he said.
His authority is in the area of toxic waste cleanup under the EPA
Superfund program, he said.
Sludge is not toxic waste, but biosolids approved by the EPA and Texas
Natural Resources Conservation Commission for beneficial use, said
George Fore, Merco ranch manager in his testimony Tuesday.
Sludge application has probably quadrupled grazing capacity, Fore said.
He and two investors formed Porvenir Cattle Co. to graze the acreage on
a lease basis and to manage wildlife. The mule deer population has
doubled, and antelope has tripled, he said.
Merco invested $1.5 million in a railroad spur to receive the sludge,
plus a storage shed the size of two football fields to hold sludge when
it rains, he said.
They also constructed a washing station to clean the containers after
sludge is dumped and built dirt berms to contain runoff around the shed
and wash rack.
Fore said he was "acutely disappointed" by the TV Nation broadcast
because it misrepresented the character of the project, and "no one was
allowed to speak for Merco on the beneficial use program."
Fran Alswang, producer of the segment, "Sludge Train," interviewed him
for over two hours, but did not use any of the interview in the show, he
The show had a chilling effect on Merco's future projects, he said. "It
threw cold water on some political relationships. It made it much more
difficult for a public figure to take a position for recycling
biosolids... It made it appear environmentally dangerous and that
dishonest, law-breaking companies were conducting it," he said.
Officials with TNRCC had privately agreed to lift restrictions on
grazing cattle on the land, but after the show were hesitant to do so.
They finally did approve it, though.
Fore said he recommended that Merco not go forward with two planned
projects in New York as a result of the show.
Under cross examination, Fore said that the sludge Merco applies is 25
percent solids and 75 percent liquid. That means that on one acre, three
tons of solids and 12 tons of water is applied.
Asked if the 12 tons of water in itself would make the grass grow, Fore
"Twelve tons of water probably is not enough to wet the carpet in this
courtroom," he said. "It doesn't hurt anything."
The moisture is gone after 24 hours, and the solids remain in chunks on
the ground for two years or more.
Asked if the wind will blow it around, Fore said "No."
"I imagine the jury has seen cow chips, and I doubt they ever saw any of
them flying through the air," he said, evoking laughter from spectators
and Senior Judge Lucius Bunton.
Ed Wagner, formerly employed by the New York City Department of
Environmental Protection, said that waste water is treated for several
months before it is shipped out as beneficial biosolids.
Recent changes in the treatment process remove most of the harmful
elements, such as heavy metals and pathogens, he said.
His explanation of the process for Alswang's cameras was not made a part
of the "Sludge Train" show.
Dr. Ron Sosebee, chairman of range, wildlife and fisheries department at
Texas Tech University, said he administers Tech's research program at
the Merco ranch.
Merco gave Tech a $1.6 million grant to conduct the research he said.
That grant was used to influence the TNRCC's approval of Merco's sludge
registration, he said.
The six-year research project is devoted to soil and plant response to
biosolid application, he said. No strings are attached to the grant.
Annual reports are made to Merco on results of the research, and they
are available by mail to anyone who requests them, Sosebee said. Results
to date have been positive, he said.
Seven graduate students each have their own project, which they will use
for their doctoral dissertations, he said. Two resident scientists live
on the site.
The research has drawn interest from several countries, and a proposal
has been submitted for collaboration with China on the same type of
project, he said.
"Everything we are finding certainly has implications througout the
world," he said.
By PEGGY McCRACKEN
PECOS, March 5, 1996 - Journalists and media should be more honest that
they do have opinions, film producer Michael Moore told a federal court
jury this morning.
Moore's "Dog-Eat-Dog" company produced the "Sludge Train" segment of a
"TV Nation" broadcast that is the subject of a libel suit filed by Merco
"TV Nation" was a humorous, "dealing with issues" series that aired on
NBC affiliates in the summer of 1994, Moore said. It earned him an Emmy
as an outstanding informational series.
He said the general idea for the sludge segment was to do something with
garbage and pollution.
"My original idea was a garbage barge. We made inquiries if we could
ride a garbage barge, but couldn't. Them someone found out about the
sludge train from New York," he said.
Since it was not a news show, the program did not require the same
journalistic ethics as a documentary, Moore said.
"People liked the show mostly because it was humourous and it had
substance to it. It dealt with things people were concerned about," he
Questioned by Merco attorney Joseph Tydings about Sierra Blanca
businessman Bill Addington's statements on the show that his lumberyard
was burned down because of his opposition to sludge, Moore said it was
not necessary to present evidence that Merco did not commit arson.
"I don't think evidence was the point. That's how he felt," Moore said.
"Do you believe it is possible to deceive the listening public by
purposefully withholding information which contradicts the story line
that your show is trying to present?" asked Tydings.
"No," Moore said..."The fact that it was not there says `this is how he
believes.' It is his feelings, but we are not going to take a position
Tydings asked Moore if TriStar Television, who commissioned the TV
Nation series, later gave him a 26-month contract with an undisclosed
salary, "regardless of whether of not you ever produced another show?"
"That's crazy, isn't it? Yeah," said Moore.
"You are almost like a movie star in the old days under contract with a
studio?" asked Tydings.
"If you say I'm like a movie star, I think your credibility is in
question," said the hulking, bearded producer, evoking laughter from
As to the sludge segment of TV Nation, Moore said he may have spent less
than five hours working on it. He said he developed the story line and
viewed rough cuts of the final segment.
"You knew there was a charge of poisoning the people of Texas?" asked
"Does it say that? The show took that position? I think you are
misrepresenting the entire piece. That's not what it is about," Moore
"Do you think references to that in the piece would require additional
investigation?" asked Tydings.
"It was enough for me that many people of the town seemed to be upset
about the sludge process," Moore said.
Hugh Kaufman, an employee of the Environmental Protection Agency, made
the remark about New York sludge poisoning the people of Texas. He
testified most of Thursday, admitting that the EPA docked his salary for
the time he spend investigating Merco.
"I think it is o.k. for people to have a specific point of view," Moore
said, using William Buckley's conservative "National Review" and Jim
Hightower's liberal radio show as examples.
"That's all part of the journalistic mix, and it is healthy in a
democracy to take a position and state their beliefs. I don't think it
is the responsibility of either side to have to present all sides of the
story. It is enough to say, `this is what I believe and this is why,'"
Peter Kinoy, testifying by deposition, said that he edited the videotape
at the direction of Fran Alswang, the producer who researched,
interviewed and directed the filming.
The first process is to select film segments that best visually and
audibly tell the story as you understand it, he said. Those are
assembled into a rough cut that is twice as long as the final story, he
Moore's comments on the rough cut were followed in further editing, he
Mitch Singer, a lawyer for TriStar, said he advised the company on all
legal matters relating to the show. After viewing the rough cut, he
recommended editing out the word "dump" from Addington's statement about
his opposition to sludge, "to make it asbsolutely clear no one is
identifiable as committing arson."
As to Kaufman's statements, Singer said Alswang told him that Kaufman
was a person with EPA who had knowledge of Merco and that he was
investigating a potential hazardous waste site at Sierra Blanca.
Singer said he knew of no statements on the Sludge Train segment that
were false or probably false.
Merco claims the show damaged their reputation and future business deals.
By PEGGY McCRACKEN
PECOS, March 5, 1996 - On-site interviews about sludge application on a
Sierra Blanca ranch led to a change in focus for a "TV Nation" segment
about New York waste and its ultimate destination, said Fran Alswang,
Alswang was the first witness called by plaintiffs Merco Joint Venture
as a federal court trial got underway Monday afternoon. Merco is suing
Tri-Star Broadcasting Company Inc., their parent company, Sony Pictures
Entertainment Inc., the segment correspondent, Roy Sekoff, and Hugh B.
Kaufman, a "whistle blower" working for the Environmental Protection
Kaufman said on the show, aired over NBC affiliates Aug. 2, 1994, that
the Merco sludge project is poisoning the people of Sierra Blanca. The
project is an illegal dump masquerading as beneficial use, he said.
Those comments were solicited on advice from legal counsel who viewed a
rough cut of hours of videotape taken for the nine-minute segment,
She said that her initial plan was to create a humorous piece showing
what happens to human waste after it is flushed down the toilet in New
It was only after talking with citizens of Sierra Blanca that Alswang
realized the town was split on the sludge issue, she testified.
Merco attorney Joseph Tydings showed segments of positive interviews
that were cut from the show and accused Alswang of slanting the story to
"do a hatchet job" on Merco, which she denied.
Merco public relations contact Kelly Sarber, testifying by deposition,
said that Alswang told her she was working for NBC, and that she planned
to do a favorable, positive story on sludge recycling.
"She said she was impressed by the project and it would be a great show
and very balanced," Sarber said.
Believing Alswang would do a piece that would educate the public, Sarber
said she cooperated fully, giving her scientific reports and other
information on sludge recycling.
"Nobody ever told me the piece had changed," she said.
After Alswang filmed the piece, she "didn't want to talk to me any more
and didn't return my phone calls," Sarber said.
Because the piece showed the project in a bad light and angered Merco
owners, Sarber resigned, giving up $5,000 per month plus expenses for
her work on behalf of Merco, she said.
The show begins with shots of New York City and the sound of commodes
flushing, moves to the wastewater treatment plant, then to the sludge
train as it leaves Brooklyn.
At the Merco ranch near Sierra Blanca, Sekoff examines a load of sludge,
then follows as huge machinery flings it across the rangeland for
fertilizer. Brief interviews with citizens show that some oppose and
some support the ranch.
Billy Addington, a Sierra Blanca businessman, tells how his lumberyard
was burned down because of his opposition to sludge. Rancher Sam Dodge
says the pollution has cut the value of his land, and he may have to
abandon it and move away.
It closes with a shot of beautiful scenery and the lament that a nuclear
waste dump is also being planned for the area.
Merco claims the show included "numerous sensationalized defamatory and
disparaging statements" that were false and damaged their reputation and
future contracts with the city of New York.
By PEGGY McCRACKEN
PECOS, March 5, 1996 - Tri-Star Television did "a hatchet job to gain
fame, publicity and profits" in producing and broadcasting a segment
titled "Sludge Train" a federal court jury heard this morning.
Joseph Tydings, lead attorney for Merco Joint Venture, said the company
was damaged by the story, which appeared on NBC-TV affiliates Aug.
Merco is applying New York sewage sludge to a 128,000-acre ranch they
purchased near Sierra Blanca for that purpose. Calling the sludge
biosolids for beneficial use, the New York company gave Texas Tech
University a $1.5 million grant to study the results.
"Tech has an ongoing research project on the ranch since it opened," he
said. "They have over 3,000 plots, testing every day the effect of
The project has received national and international acclaim, Tydings
said. Soil leaders from China, Africa and Mexico have visited the
ranch, and students from Tech are being trained there.
He said that producers for Tri-Star Television laid out a plan for the
"Sludge Train" segment of a "TV Nation" show before anyone visited the
project, quoting from in¬ ternal memos that called it the "shit-train
"They ignored all the claims the ranch land was being restored," he
said. "They didn't even talk to the Tech scientists working there."
Content of the show was directly contrary to the findings made in
litigation before Chief Judge Lucius Bunton in a lawsuit filed by
Texas Attorney General Dan Morales in an attempt to stop the sludge
application before it started in 1992, Tydings said.
"He ruled against Texas and permitted the project to go forward,"
Inferences by Sierra Blanca businessman Willard "Bill" Addington that
his lumberyard was burned down because he opposed the Merco project, and
statements by EPA whistle blower Hugh Kaufman that the project is a haz¬
ardous waste dump masquerading as beneficial use also brought them into
the suit as defendants.
Judge Bunton dismissed claims against Addington in a pre-trial hearing.
Martha Evans represents Kaufman. She said he will testify about his
work investigating hazardous waste sites over the 23 years he has
worked for the EPA.
Dan Davison, defending Tri-Star and Roy Sekoff, said the question is
not whether the Merco project is beneficial, but whether a person has a
right to have an opinion and to express it without being sued and
dragged into court.
That right is guaranteed by the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution, he said.
"Merco is attempting to silence its critics," Davison said. "It has
been a controversial project since the day it came to Texas in 1992.
This is just another in a long line of efforts to silence its critics."
He pointed to numerous newspaper articles and television reports in
New York, West Texas, Dallas and Austin: "some pro Merco, some
negative," to support his claim of controversy.
Scientists and scholars disagree on the project's benefits, and citizens in Sierra Blanca disagree, he said. Some think Merco is the best
thing that's every happened because of the money; some think the land
is being poisoned.
All that makes an interesting story, and that is what Tri-Star published, he said.
Sekoff merely provided the voice-over for the show and talked to some
people, Davison said.
And he denied that Merco was damaged by the show, since they still have
the $68 million contract with New York to dispose of their sludge.
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