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Activists Target Juice Company

The firm seeks to bar animal rights protesters from posting POM employee data on the Web or demonstrating at workers' homes.

September 10, 2006|Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writer

Of the many possible targets of animal rights activists in Southern California, the world's largest distributor of pomegranate juice, POM Wonderful, might seem low on the list. But according to a lawsuit filed last week in Los Angeles County Superior Court, the company's employees have been besieged by animal rights protesters who are angry about testing the company has done to prove its assertions that the bright red juice is an elixir of health.

According to information posted on animal rights websites, activists have targeted POM because, they say, the company has funded experiments on mice and rabbits, including lowering the brain oxygen levels in newborn mice to cause them brain injuries and "forcing their mothers to drink water mixed with pomegranate concentrate."

A POM spokeswoman declined to address the claims. In a declaration filed with the injunction request, POM President Matthew Tupper said his company has been involved with "a limited amount of animal testing."

In their court papers, company officials say they believe the protesters are affiliated with the Animal Liberation Front, which the FBI has said is a domestic terror threat. And the company is fighting back, asking a judge to fine activists $1,000 if they post personal information about POM employees on websites. Company officials also want a judge to order activists not to picket or demonstrate outside the homes of the juice company's employees.

None of the activists named in the lawsuit could be reached for comment.

A spokesman for the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, Jerry Vlasak, denied involvement in the campaign. Vlasak often acts as a spokesman for the underground Animal Liberation Front.

The request for an injunction comes less than two weeks after UCLA Chancellor Norman Abrams called animal rights activists domestic terrorists and said he was taking steps to protect faculty members. An explosive device was left at a house in Bel-Air near the home of a professor who performs research on primate behavior.

Still, the broad scope of the juice company's request took some by surprise. Timothy Alger, a 1st Amendment expert at the law firm Quinn Emanuel, said such a request was rare. "I don't see how an employer can go to court and ask for an injunction that forbids speech about an employee."

POM employees haven't reported any violence. But in declarations filed in court to back their injunction request, POM employees said they and their children have been harassed by black-clad protesters during a relentless series of demonstrations at their homes.

In court papers, Fiona Posell, POM's spokeswoman, said she went home the morning of Aug. 6 and found her husband and 8-month-old-daughter in front of their Santa Monica house surrounded by a throng of demonstrators screaming, "We know where you live and where you sleep!"

Her neighbors also received fliers that read "Fiona Posell kills animals for juice."

The next day at work, according to court papers, she received an anonymous phone call from a man who said: "We know where you live. You are the mouthpiece of the company and we are going to find you." At that point, Posell said, she and her family fled their home for a week.

Posell and her attorneys declined to comment. Other POM employees reported similar visits from protesters. Scott Thewes, director of sales, said "an angry mob ... charged up the driveway" the morning of Aug. 20 toward him and his family.

"The garage door closed just as our pursuers got to within a few feet.... My daughters were crying and literally shaking with fear," he said in a court declaration.

A judge could rule on the request for an injunction as soon as next month.

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