Decades of court proceedings over racial prejudice at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are coming to an end as a federal judge prepares to make a decision whether to grant final approval to a $1.25 billion settlement for thousands of black farmers.
At a hearing on September 1, 2011, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Friedman said, “I need to determine if it is fair, adequate, and reasonable.”
Lawyers for the class action that led to the proposed settlement were in agreement with the Justice Department as they stood before the court, who earlier granted preliminary approval to a two-track system of payouts for the bias.
Congress decided to fund the settlement as a stipulation in the 2008 farm bill signed by President Barack Obama.
Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture, stated that there’s no doubt damages are due for black farmers who suffered from previous discrimination by the Agriculture Department’s local and regional staff.
Thousands of farmers missed the cut-off date to file lawsuits in the initial settlement in 1999. Congress ultimately agreed to allow those who filed late to now have their claims considered.
Consequently, approximately 70,000 African-American farmers who filed between 1999 and 2008 could be eligible for one of two forms or relief.
CNN states “Track A,” for a qualified applicant would lead to an uncontested payout of $50,000 after taxes, while “Track B” could lead to a quarter-million dollars for damages that are verified by documents and other evidence.
After taking into account issues expressed during the hearing by groups and individuals who object to the proposal, Judge Friedman stated he will “issue an opinion at some point soon whether to approve this proposed settlement.
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By: South Carolina Criminal Defense Attorney Pete Strom