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Cockfighting fans plan lawsuit to keep blood sport legal

Jun-22-07

An attorney said Wednesday he plans to file a lawsuit against the state of New Mexico by the middle of next week to secure an injunction against a new law banning cockfighting. The suit will be based on the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War in 1848.

Mark Pollot, the Idaho based attorney who will file the case, said the 1848 treaty was recognized by state lawmakers who crafted the New Mexico Constitution and recognizes culturally binding private property rights.

"We say private property rights also include uses that are culturally binding," Pollot said.

A cockfight is a blood sport between two specially trained roosters held in a ring called a cockpit. The roosters are each armed with steal spurs. While not all fights are to the death, they often may result in the death of both birds.

Cockfighting was once considered to be a traditional sporting event in the United States. Many of the founding fathers  participated in the sport  including Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln. Today it is generally recognized as a form of animal cruelty.

For years cockfighting participants have argued their sport is a cultural tradition. Supporters say it keeps kids away from drugs and crime.

Opponents, including animal-rights activists, argue the events amount to animal cruelty and spur crime. State Sen. Mary Jane Garcia, a Doņa Ana Democrat has repeatedly introduced legislation to ban cockfighting over the past 18 years.

The two-decade battle in New Mexico seemed to have reached a climax when Gov. Bill Richardson signed the law banning the sport in March.

"Today, New Mexico joins 48 other states in affirming that the deliberate killing of animals for entertainment and profit is no longer acceptable," Garcia said at the time.

But cockfighting fans accused Richardson of taking a sudden interest in cockfighting now that he is seeking the Democratic nomination for president. They defended cockfighting as a family activity and said opponents were meddling.

Pollot said plaintiffs in the lawsuit will include cockfighting participants and those with indirect ties to the sport, including owners of animal-feed stores, motels and restaurants.

Phil Sisneros, a spokesman for the New Mexico Attorney General's Office, said the office vetted the ban as it was being written this year and is prepared to defend the law in court.

The Attorney General's Office in the past has looked at the issue of whether the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo protects cockfighting. In 2003, the office issued an opinion saying the sport isn't a right protected by the document.

Pollot said he hasn't decided where in New Mexico he will file the lawsuit, but said it likely will be a place where cockfighting is popular.

The lawsuit will also challenge the way the bill became law. Pollot said the state Constitution requires bills to be read out loud before becoming law, which didn't happen. The traditional procedure in the House and Senate, however, is to read the title of bills three times, instead of in their entirety.

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