State’s GMO defense team selected
By Neal P. Goswami
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | July 09,2014
MONTPELIER — The state has lined up the defense team that will look to defend a lawsuit from the food industry against a new GMO labeling law.
Attorney General Bill Sorrell said Assistant Attorney General Megan J. Shafritz, chief of the attorney general’s civil division, will serve as the lead attorney against a lawsuit filed in June by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Snack Food Association, International Dairy Foods Association and National Association of Manufacturers.
The food industry is challenging the constitutionality of a law signed by Gov. Peter Shumlin in May that requires the labeling to identify food produced with genetically modified ingredients. The state’s response to the suit is due Aug. 8.
Sorrell said the litigation team defending the law will include in-house attorneys Jon Alexander, Kyle Landis-Marinello and Naomi Sheffield. It will also employ attorneys from the Washington, D.C., firm Robbins, Russell, Englert, Orseck, Untereiner & Sauber LLP.
“My office will be lead counsel on the case and will dedicate this great team of experienced attorneys to the matter full time,” Sorrell said.
Lawrence S. Robbins, a partner in the D.C. practice, will serve as the firm’s primary attorney on the case and will have the support of several of lawyers, including experienced litigators and a senior associate with a Ph.D. in biology, according to Sorrell.
“The skills and resources of Robbins Russell will be a tremendous asset to the defense team,” Sorrell said. “Larry Robbins, in particular, is an experienced litigator and took on Monsanto in 2010 when he represented the Center for Food Safety and other parties in the Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms case in the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Sorrell said his office has negotiated a $1.465 million contract with Robbins Russell that includes the firm’s involvement in all stages of the lower court litigation.
“As I have cautioned all along, the defense of this lawsuit will be costly,” said Sorrell. “Plaintiffs are both national and international trade associations that are well-resourced and are expected to mount a vigorous attack on the law. I am confident we have put together a legal defense team that has the resources and expertise to meet that challenge.”
The Food Fight Fund, a fund included in the GMO law that allows the public to contribute to the defense fund, has collected about $100,000 so far. More than half, $53,000, was donated by Moveon.org.
Sorrell has estimated that defending the law could cost the state as much as $8 million.
Meanwhile, Human Resources Commissioner Kate Duffy will leave her post to return to the attorney general’s office to serve as “an integral part of the defense team,” Sorrell said. Duffy served as an assistant attorney general for six years before being appointed deputy commissioner of Human Resources in 2009.
“I am very excited about Kate rejoining my team,” Sorrell said in a statement. “She is an accomplished trial attorney who has represented both state and corporate clients in complex litigation around the country for over 20 years. Kate will be a member of the Attorney General’s Office’s Civil Division and an integral part of the litigation team defending the pending challenge to Vermont’s genetically-engineered food labeling law.”
Duffy will rejoin the Sorrell’s office next month.