Rose Sanders, an attorney who has worked with Pigford I and II, advised Pigford II claimants to go with the Track A approach toward the discrimination settlement, saying that chances for receiving the larger Track B $250,000 award were “very much smaller.”
ALBANY — During a two-day gathering of the Georgia Farmers Conference, held Friday and Saturday, black farmers from around the state attended a number of workshops on topics including starting and managing cooperatives, insurance and risk management, marketing opportunities and resources.
The conference was sponsored by The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, a 40-year-old advocacy group formed primarily to assist black and other minority farmers in development of self-sufficient communities of cooperative farming and credit unions and to assist in land retention, according to Heather Gray, publicity director for the group.
Speakers at the event included U.S. Rep. Sanford D. Bishop, D-Albany, Jerry Pennick, FSC/LAF; Carmen Jones, a special assistant, departmental administration with the office of the secretary with the U.S. Department of Agriculture; U.S.D.A. panelist Natural Resource Conservation Service James Tillman, Georgia State Conservationist Hobby Stripling with the Farm Service Agency; Georgia state director and Rural Development Al Burns, a business and cooperative specialist.
A brief address was given by Quinton Robinson, acting state director of U.S.D.A. Rural Development. Robinson was introduced by Shirley Sherrod, former director of Rural Development and currently with the Southwest Georgia Project.
Sherrod and her husband, Charles, are known for having helped form the New Communities collective farm in the early 1970s. The farm ultimately failed, then in 1999, became a part of the massive civil rights suit which came to be known as Pigford I and Pigford II. According to Newsweek magazine, New Communities received some $13 million, the largest single part of the more than $1 billion settlement, with $330,000 awarded to Shirley and Charles Sherrod for mental suffering. Rose Sanders, attorney for New Communities, said the land itself was worth at least $9 million with total value of New Communities much more than the settlement amount.
A significant portion of the conference was given to panelists Hank Sanders, Rose Sanders and John Zippert, attorneys associated with Pigford One and Two, to elaborate on the status of the class action suits and to offer advice for filling out the complicated claim forms.
In 1999, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia approved a settlement agreement and consent decree in Pigford v. Glickman, a class action discrimination suit between the USDA and black farmers. The farmers claimed they had been discriminated against of the basis of race and that the agency had failed to investigate or properly respond to complaints from 1983 to 1997. The deadline for submitting a claim as a class member was Sept. 12, 2000. In Nov. 2010, 15,642 of the 22,721 eligible class members had final adjudications approved.
Because of concerns about the settlement structure, the large number of late filers and reported deficiencies in counsel, a provision was made in the 2008 farm bill (P.L.110-246) declaring that any claimant who had submitted a late-filing request under Pigford and who had not previously obtained a determination on the merits of his or her claim to petition in federal court could obtain such a determination. The multiple claims that were subsequently filed were consolidated into a single case, In re Black Farmers Discrimination Litigation, or Pigford II.
Included in the filing advice from panelists, claimants were assured that no one needed to pay for help in filing, but neither should they file on their own, as the the form is difficult, even for some attorneys. Panel members also strongly suggested that claimants consider filing under “track A,” rather than the more involved “track B” approach.
“You could really lose big with track B,” said Rose Sanders, one of the instructing attorneys. “Track A is much easier, and less detailed. You’ll receive $50,000 with debt relief and you won’t have to pay taxes on it. Track B is $250,000 if you win, with no debt relief and taxes charged against it.”
Sanders said that in litigation, The USDA had wanted to eliminate Track A for the more difficult Track B.
“That would have been much cheaper for them,” Sanders said.