Judge rejects suit against Geneva animal rights group

By Josh Stockinger
Daily Herald

A Wyoming judge has thrown out a lawsuit against a Geneva-based animal-rights group accused of persuading two popular music acts to cancel their performances at a Cheyenne rodeo.

The lawsuit claimed the group Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, or SHARK, prompted musicians Carrie Underwood and Matchbox 20 to cancel scheduled performances through "false and misleading information and threats of negative publicity."

The complaint was dismissed last week when the judge ruled that Wyoming's court system wasn't the appropriate venue for the lawsuit. Now the plaintiff, Romeo Entertainment Group, is considering whether to appeal the decision or refile the suit in Illinois, its attorney said.

"It's basically just a temporary setback," said Kent Rutledge, who represents Romeo, a Nebraska entertainment firm. "(The judge) did not address the merit of the case."

According to the lawsuit, Underwood and Matchbox 20 backed out of their scheduled performances at Cheyenne Frontier Days in 2006 and 2008, respectively, after being contacted by members of SHARK. In April, the animal-rights group, which documents and seeks publicity over alleged animal abuse, was sued for loss of revenue in excess of $100,000.

SHARK President Steve Hindi of Elburn said his organization is merely taking advantage of its First Amendment rights to free speech in the hopes of exposing animal abuse and spurring reform.

"Our position is, we educate the public about what goes on at rodeos - the injuries, the abuse, the deaths," he said. "If they sue in Illinois, we'll fight and I fully expect we will win."

Hindi, who has been involved with animal-rights issues for about 15 years, said SHARK consists of roughly 200 participants from across the country. On Monday, he was returning from Wyoming, where he had attended Cheyenne Frontier Days on behalf of the organization.

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