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Hoosier ag law foundation to help farm legal battles
By NANCY VORIS
Indiana Correspondent

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — If a neighbor takes you by the horns to court because your bull knocked down the fence and plowed through his prized rose garden, you’re on your own.

But on more weighty legal issues involving agriculture, help may be available.

The Indiana Agricultural Law Foundation, Inc. (IALF), a not-for-profit organization, was established last year by the Indiana Farm Bureau to provide representation and financial support for cases with wide impact. The foundation replaced the former Legal Assistance Fund formed in 1995 and is available to Farm Bureau members and nonmembers.

Legal issues accepted by the foundation should have the potential to set precedence or involve issues of common concern to the agricultural community.

“The foundation does not support cases that are simply factual disputes,” said Justin Schneider of the IALF. “Cases related to eminent domain, easements and wetlands seem to be common ones that are submitted.”

One past issue involved ownership of the land where a railroad track was located and whether the grantors of the right-of-way should be compensated.

Many of the property owners who granted the right-of-way received compensation and the cases are still being resolved.

Another case involving an accused landowner and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management dealt with the potential liability for pollution to a ditch. The issue in the case was if the state bore the burden of proof to provide evidence of the source of contamination.

All applications for funding of projects are reviewed and evaluated by a committee, then recommended for approval by the IALF Board of Directors. The applicant is responsible for hiring an attorney and a portion of the funding. The IALF provides funding based on the amount requested, the stage of the proceeding and the type of issue.

Schneider said four cases have been accepted in the past six weeks:

•Whether an easement written solely for the purpose of providing electric service contemplates the addition of other utilities without compensation or the use of eminent domain

•Whether a conservancy district should be established to provide maintenance for a dam and a road on the dam

•The extent of control that the Department of Natural Resources has over privately and legally owned animals

•Assist in the filing of a friend-of-the-court brief on whether criminal laws should be defined by administrative rules written by an agency and not the General Assembly

The IALF also administers grants to provide educational programs for farmers, communities or legal professionals. It works to provide education to the legal community on matters of importance to agricultural producers and is helping establish an agricultural law section of the Indiana State Bar Assoc.

The IALF is financed through contributions from individuals, organizations and companies with an interest in the future of Indiana agriculture. Contributions are tax deductible.

Schneider said fund-raising is crucial because litigation is an expensive endeavor.

“Our goal is to acquire enough funds so we do not have to be concerned about raising money to support a case when we should be directing our efforts to help the applicant achieve success for agriculture in the courtroom,” Schneider said.

For more information, call the IALF at 317-692-7750.

This farm news was published in the May 3, 2006 issue of Farm World.

5/3/2006