Farmers suffered loss, witnesses in libel trial say


Two Marston farmers were portrayed as skilled livestock handlers who have been unjustly denied their living in yesterday's testimony during the first day of their libel and slander suit against the Humane Society of Carroll County.

Carroll Lynn Schisler and his brother, August Frederick "Fred" Schisler, were acquitted in August 1990 of animal cruelty charges stemming from a raid on their farm that spring.

The brothers -- who buy malnourished animals at livestock auctions to fatten before reselling them -- filed suit in July 1991 against the society; its director, Carolyn "Nicky" Ratliff; and the society's animal control officer, David R. Stair.

The suit -- which seeks $120,000 from Ms. Ratliff, $171,600 from Mr. Stair and $290,000 from the Humane Society -- claims the defendants made statements to the press and released misleading videotapes to local television stations that ruined their reputations and caused them to lose business.

The Humane Society, which receives grants from the county, joined the county Sheriff's Department in a raid on the farm.

"I think it's real sad what has happened," said the Schislers' attorney, Margaret Mead, outside court yesterday. "These are good, solid, hard-working farmers that excelled in what they do. They are so good to animals, they are better to animals than some people are to people."

Lucille Schisler, the Schislers' 68-year-old mother who lives with Fred Schisler, testified that Ms. Ratliff said "mean and nasty" things about their farm during the raid on April 11, 1990.

"No matter where she went, she opened her mouth saying things about the hay being moldy, the feed being moldy and that it wasn't fit to feed the animals," Mrs. Schisler said.

Mrs. Schisler also testified that her sons must now work harder and attend more livestock auctions to bring in the same amount of money they did before the raid.

When cross-examined, Mrs. Schisler, who keeps the books for the farm, testified that her family had a gross income of about $41,000 in 1990, about $38,000 in 1991 and about $42,000 in 1992.

Livestock auction owners and farmers who specialize in fattening thin, or feeder, animals testified that the Schislers' reputation suffered from media publicity of the raid.

"When I get a sick cow, I get him [Fred Schisler] to come over and get his opinion before I call the vet," said Robert Costa, a part-time livestock farmer in Sykesville. "[The care they give animals is] the very best. People who don't know the Schislers have got a bad opinion of them."

Many confirmed that the Schislers now unload their animals while the auction is in progress so buyers will not know who the seller is.

Many of those testifying conceded that some farmers, though not themselves, leave animal carcasses unburied to discourage buzzards from attacking young or sickly livestock.

However, upon cross-examination, most said they would be concerned if they saw 50 to 100 dead animal carcasses lying around someone's property.

Animal control officers had testified in the animal cruelty trial to finding about 100 carcasses piled around the farm.

"I don't think there would be 50 cattle that just died lying around; that's not normal practice," said John Hilton, a Catonsville cattle farmer who also buys animals at auction for packing companies.

Testimony for the plaintiffs is expected to continue today.

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