It’s back to the beginning for six Millard County, Utah, dairies after more than a month of testimony to convince a jury that stray voltage from a local power plant is harming their herds.
According to The Salt Lake Tribune, a 4th District judge declared the mistrial this week after the dairy farmers raised doubt about a juror’s impartiality. The trial had already been moved once in hopes to seating an unbiased jury.
The ruling was based on the assertion that the jury had been exposed to outside information. The dairy owners’ lawyer, Jeff Gross, said the information was related to an Intermountain Power Plant meeting between the plant manager and most of his employees before the trial started.
Gross alleged plant manager, Jon Christensen, "advised the employees that the Intermountain Power Plant will be shut down, and jobs would be lost, if plaintiffs prevailed at trial."
The plant is one of the largest employers in west-central Utah and contributes substantially to the state’s rural economy.
"We were concerned about it [Christensen’s employee meeting] as an attempt to affect the jury pool," Gross said in an interview.
Gross suspects Christensen’s message found its way to a juror through a family member.
Testimony opened in early October in hopes of resolving whether stray voltage from the plant sickens herds at local dairies.
The producers are claiming nearly $485 million in economic losses that, according to the report, “pits two important pillars of Utah’s rural economy — agriculture and energy — against each other.”
Stray voltage is not a new problem for livestock producers. Dairy Herd Management has been writing about it since the mid-1990s. But lawsuits continue to be filed against electric cooperatives. In July, a Minnesota Appeals Court upheld a stray voltage ruling, which awarded a Waverly, Minn., dairy farmer damages after stray electrical currents from a local power cooperative impacted his herd.