A state district judge issued a preliminary injunction Friday night against a horse-slaughter plant in New Mexico.

It was another setback, perhaps a fatal one, for Valley Meat Co., which for two years has been the target of lawsuits and heavy public opposition. The company wants to kill horses and sell the meat in foreign markets.

Judge Matthew Wilson of Santa Fe granted the injunction against the company. He accepted state Attorney General Gary King’s arguments that Valley Meat would harm the environment and contaminate the food chain.

Wilson’s ruling came after a confusing afternoon, in which he first issued an order saying he would hold a hearing on whether he should remove himself from the case because of challenges to his impartiality.

Lawyers for the slaughterhouse had filed an emergency motion asking Wilson to recuse himself. They said the judge had a conflict of interest that he failed to disclose, and that his Facebook page showed evidence of bias against Valley Meat Co.

Blair Dunn, a lawyer for Valley Meat Co., said Wilson had ties to King’s office but never mentioned them when hearing King’s lawsuit against the company.

“We learned [Friday] that Judge Wilson up until 2010 worked as a special assistant attorney general assigned to the New Mexico Human Services Department. It was inappropriate that he failed to disclose that,” Dunn said.

A few hours after Wilson said he would hold a recusal hearing on whether he should be on the case, he ruled against the slaughterhouse and for the attorney general.

Dunn said his next move would be to ask the New Mexico Supreme Court to remove Wilson from the case.

“We asked him nicely to recuse himself, but he’s never going to do it,” Dunn said. “The only remedy in this kind of situation is to go to the Supreme Court.”

Wilson, a Democrat, was appointed to the District Court bench in October by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez. The high-profile horse-slaughter lawsuit has been his most publicized case during his three months as a judge.

On Wilson’s Facebook page, which promotes his campaign for election to the bench, various public comments against Valley Meat Co. have been posted in the last two weeks. Dunn said a judge should not have allowed comments from the public on cases he is hearing.

Wilson could not be reached about his Facebook page or Dunn’s allegations.

One posting on Wilson’s Facebook page was from a woman in Pennsylvania. It said: “Implore you to not allow the needless slaughter of horses. PLS turn this down. It is disgusting and inhumane.”

In granting the preliminary injunction against Valley Meat Co., Wilson accepted all the arguments made by King’s legal team.

Wilson said that, unless he ruled against the slaughterhouse, “the state and its residents will suffer irreparable injury as a result of Valley Meat’s imminent, self-declared violations” of the water-quality and food acts.

Valley Meat is not operating. But King’s lawyers argued that the company intended to begin slaughtering horses even without a state-required sewage discharge system.

Dunn said in hearings before Wilson that the attorney general’s claims were not true.

Dunn said Valley Meat’s owner, Rick De Los Santos, would comply with all state and federal requirements, including sewage discharge. In fact, Dunn said, before King filed his lawsuit, the company was working with the state Environment Department to obtain a discharge permit or an acceptable pump-and-haul system.

Dunn said King’s lawsuit should have been thrown out by Wilson because the case was being reviewed administratively by the Environment Department. Moreover, Dunn argued that Wilson’s court had no jurisdiction over meat inspections or water-quality complaints.

No matter what happens in the state courts, Valley Meat and proposed horse-slaughter plants in Iowa and Missouri may never be able to open.

Congress has eliminated money from the federal budget for horse-meat inspectors. A similar budgetary maneuver in 2007 effectively closed U.S. horse-slaughter plants.

De Los Santos said the congressional cuts did not end horse slaughter. Rather, he said, American horses were simply exported to border countries and killed there.

About 158,000 U.S. horses were shipped to Mexico and Canada in 2012, mostly to slaughterhouses. De Los Santos said the export system meant horses live in pain and filth during transport to distant slaughterhouses.

Proponents of U.S. horse slaughter have included the Yakama cqtribe in Washington state. Its lawyer, John Boyd of Albuquerque, has argued that an explosion of wild horses was wrecking the environment and reducing elk and deer populations on tribal lands.

One of King’s main arguments against Valley Meat Co. was that horse meat could be tainted with drugs. King said New Mexico’s reputation would suffer globally if the state were the source of an unsafe food product.

Contact Milan Simonich at 986-3080 or msimonich@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter @milansnmreport.

(16) comments

Elizabeth Dana

Did Attorney Blair Dunn disclose that his father is running for a political office to be a land supervisor in New Mexico so as to have say over BLM lands that have wild horses that are remove for slaughter? Did Aubrey Blair Dunn file a conflict of interest in that he should recluse himself from a horse slaughter case when his father is a horse rancher? Did Aubrey Blair pound the table in front of the Court to show anger and emotion or personally make a physical threating move in front of the Judge? I read it on a face book page so I was just asking?

Elizabeth Dana

Yes it is easy to go snoop around Facebook rather than look up Martindale Hubbel or Lexis to view an attorney's PUBLIC record - or take a quote from anyone on a public and open facebook page and try and raise that "comment" to the legal status of "Hey he didn't tell me " !Mr. A. Blair Dunnce has forgotten to comment and mention that the alias "Captain Kangaroo -twas Neither a Captain (but was a US Marine- Semper Fi) nor a kangaroo. Dr. Seuss- tI read all of his research journals - was not a Doctor!. Batman was not a bat nor was his sidekick a robin! How much more illogical waste of taxpayers money fighting frivolous lawsuits must we go through to find out that IN FACT Judges are lawyers and state appointed positions are gained from YEARS OF HARD PERSONAL WORK - - and when a lawyer working for the State of New Mexico is promoted, elected or appointed as a Judge than this is of PUBLIC RECORD like the NM Bar Association! However now Aubrey Blair has raised the social medium of "Facebook" to be the "true source of unsolicited disclosure". The show is over - can some one please let the table pounding clown now where the exit is? Check please!

Patience O'Dowd

Explosion of wild horses? NM has hundreds of thousands of CATTLE not horses. More than 1700 CATTLE to every 1 HORSE on state and federal lands. See link.

Attorney Boyd, perhaps the Yakima (Not in NM) should re-introduce predators or start using PZP? Could you provide an actual count? Explosion sounds like a tabloid reference.


Margaret Lewis

It is important that this case go forward and that Attorney Dunn and deLos Santos lose. That would effectively ban slaughter in NM should the SAFE Act not be passed, slaughter somehow be funded again. It sounds totally backwards but that's how it is.

So fire up your fax machines and get your fingers typing! Let's let everyone in Washington know we want SAFE Act passed! That will stop the sale and transport issues over the border.

Oh also in the supporting documents that defunded inspections is the juicy tidbit that's says till FDA can say horse meat is safe AND FDA reclassifies horses as food and not pets legislation for inspections can't happen! Mostly slaughter is off the table now!

Attorney Dunn is trying to get the last of whatever monies he can get before he loss his practice. I mean seriously after this last two year battle and how contentious it's all been who would hire him? And deLos Santos I guess will have to go back to slaughtering cows again....

Sara Annon

truth about horse slaughter is uglier than I ever imagined.

R.T. Fitch

Why U.S. tax payers would want to fund inspectors for a meat that is not even eaten in the U.S. is beyond me. Valley Meats appears to be a den of parasites and pain. Time for De Los Santos to open his eyes and get a life.

Kate Sheahan

I can't understand how they even think there is a booming market for US horse meat after last year's EU ban on the import of it for lack of oversight by the FDA. The Japanese seem to be content with the Canadian supply of Premarin foals. Does that mean these "suppliers" were just going to adulterate the national beef market?

Carolyn DM

Ya Yay!! Good to hear there's at least one good judge in these parts. Now find the guard dog a good home. I can't imagine someone that doesn't mind slaughtering horses for his paycheck will treat a dog like part of the family. Way to go, judge!!

peggy grebinski

I was thinking the same thing about the dog...

Vicky Johnson

Amazing... The AG and the judge have a moral and ethical responsibility to the people in their community first and with VM history of environmental noncomplaince and the fact that there is NO 'safe' U.S. horsemeat - the outcome couldn't be more obvious. U.S. horses are NOT regulated food animals and are largely adulterated or unwholesome for human consumption! That is a fact. Would any community want a business that not only pollutes the environment but produces food that can make people sick. It is like eating lab rats - maybe it will get you this time, maybe it will bite you in 10 years - but would you feed it to your children?

Elizabeth Dana

Lab rats - the other white meat - don't tell Blair or he will find a way to export that!

Maggie Frazier

Its about time that instead of accusing the judge, the AG, and anyone else that opposes horse slaughter - we should be hearing the actual parties that are backing this horse slaughter plant - I think that's only fair. Quid pro quo? Mr. Dunn certainly manages to get his "say" publicized. The backers of this plant should be made public. If Mr. DeLosSantos is so concerned with the cruelty involved in the trucking of horses across the borders - why does he think it less so to truck them to NM? The whole slaughter process is exactly the same whether its here (in humane US) or Mexico or Canada! The US plants "processed" horses exactly the same!
Reaching, Mr. Dunn - reaching.....


Now that USDA inspections of horse slaughter plants has been ended, those of us who desire to see an end to horse slaughter must continue to push for passage of the SAFE act in congress which will make illegal the transport of horses for slaughter whether that is in the US or across the borders to Mexico, Canada or by air to other countries. Our work is only just beginning but we are fortunate in New Mexico to have wise leaders like Gary King who was willing to step into this with great determination and commitment. And Michelle Lujan Grisham was the first of our New Mexican Congressional Delegates to co-sponsor the SAFE act and wen on to lead others to do the same. We need to insure that King is our next Governor and that Lujan Grisham retains her seat in the house. We need more politicians like them who are willing to go to bat for the people they represent. Many of our nation's leaders seem to have forgotten that.

Theresa Gray

Interesting - Mr De Los Santos would have you believe that the trucking of American horses across borders is a new concept forced by the cessation of Federal inspection; when in FACT - it has been a common practice all along... statistics posted by the USDA state exported horse numbers for slaughter, and are obtainable back to 1996...

Truth be told, financial backers were obtained, and De Los Santos is the puppet front man... All wanting their cut of the lucrative horse meat trade. No consideration of the environmental track record of the facility, nor any intent to do anything other than make a buck while they can. Why do you think that the cities who used to play host to these facilities DO NOT WANT THEM BACK? Taxes paid by these facilities do not begin to cover the costs involved with the environmental impact created by their operation. Given the track record of Valley Meat, why would we expect a change in that respect?

Kudos to the Federal Government for having the foresight to listen to the taxpayers with regard to funding USDA inspection of horse meat... And Kudos to Mr King for looking out for his constituents in New Mexico.

If you wish to stop the practice of horse slaughter altogether, contact your legislator and urge the passage of the S.A.F.E. Act, which would prohibit the export of American horses for slaughter to foreign countries as well.. Thank you.

Allan Ladd

why would anyone feel compelled to repeat A.Blair Dunn's idiotic statements ? It doesn't take a lawyer to see how absurd Dunn's complaints are : 1) having a FB page which every person running for office makes the candidate responsible for comments posted on it ? In that case every judge would have to recuse himself or herself from every case ! Maybe Dunn doesn't grasp the basic relation of cause and effect and has it backward ! Because an opponent of horse slaughter approves of judge Wilson it follows that Judge Wilson must be (secretly) biased against horse slaughter ! What's wrong with this picture, Dunn ?! If a proponent of horse slaughter then commented in favor of his candidacy would they then cancel each other out and he would then be properly neutral ? Idiotic ! Why on earth would the fact that Wilson didn't disclose he worked for the NM Human Services Department compromise his ability to judge a case according to law ? By that logic no one who worked for any branch of State government could be a judge in a case involving the State government ? Absurd ! Turn about is fair play maybe Dunn should now fully disclose to the public his connections with Valley Meats as an investor ! It is astonishing to me that Dunn even practices law dragging in the political motivations of Gary King as if they were relevant to an issue of law !

Elizabeth Dana

I must disclose - I play a Lie-yer on facebook!

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