A judge sanctioned six lawyers representing the owners of the Ringling Bros circus and ordered them to pay US$51,000 in fines to the animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) for contempt of court and other violations.
Alleged Corporate spying
PETA sued Vienna, Virginia-based Feld Entertainment, which produces the circus, more than four years ago, claiming Feld ran an extensive corporate espionage campaign against it.
PETA alleged Feld paid millions of dollars to a former top CIA operative to help run its spy operation.
Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge David Stitt issued the sanctions last week after PETA complained that Feld's lawyers were obstructing the lawsuit.
One lawyer, Joseph Petrosinelli, was held in contempt of court for interfering with a deposition.
He was ordered to pay US$11,305 to PETA.
He and five other lawyers -- Barry Simon, George Borden, Matthew Andelman, William Porter and John A.C. Keith -- were sanctioned and fined US$40,000 for improperly accusing Stitt of judicial misconduct.
Simon, listed as lead defense counsel, declined comment through his office. Petrosinelli and Feld Entertainment did not return calls seeking comment.
Clair George, the CIA's former covert operations director who was convicted of perjury in the Iran-Contra scandal but later pardoned, acknowledged in an unrelated case that he did consulting work for Feld and helped to oversee its surveillance of animal-rights groups.
PETA's lawsuit seeks US$1.8 million in damages and full disclosure of Feld's alleged espionage efforts.
The group's lawyer, Philip Hirschkop, said the espionage included theft of internal PETA documents and mailing lists.