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As far as executives at Chiron Corp. are concerned, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty USA Inc. is nothing less than a terrorist group using thuggery to press a violent agenda. But SHAC USA calls itself a peaceful advocacy group trying to prevent animals from being treated inhumanely in the name of medical research. Chiron, the group says, is blaming it for the destructive acts of a few extremists. Those opposing views will clash head-on today when San Francisco’s First District Court of Appeal hears arguments in a case that pits free speech against a company’s right to do business. The medical research industry is watching with intense interest. Chiron, one of the world’s leading biopharmaceutical companies, sued SHAC USA in 2004, accusing the animal-rights group of encouraging attacks on employees’ homes as well as the detonation of two bombs at its Emeryville headquarters in 2003. “By suing to stop the illegal harassment orchestrated by SHAC USA,” Daniel Bookin, a partner in O’Melveny & Myers’ San Francisco office, wrote in court briefs, “Chiron is protecting the safety of its employees, which is critical to its ability to conduct the research necessary to develop life-saving vaccines and to compete in the biopharmaceutical industry.” The National Association for Biomedical Research � composed of more than 300 universities, medical and veterinary schools, pharmaceutical companies and other animal research-related firms � filed an amicus curiae brief siding with Chiron. It points out that SHAC USA has already been convicted in a New Jersey federal court for similar harassment. “Given the very real threats facing the research community � including threats of bodily harm,” wrote Richard Jones, special counsel in Covington & Burling’s San Francisco office, “NABR believes it is of the utmost importance that courts not interpret anti-SLAPP statutes in such a way as to render courts powerless to provide timely protection.” California’s 14-year-old anti-SLAPP statute is central to the case. That law lets defendants attempt to dismiss a so-called Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation by arguing it was filed to interfere with business interests or free speech. SHAC USA’s lawyers contend Chiron’s lawsuit is an attempt to stifle the group’s allegations that Chiron is part of a global network of companies that torture, maim or kill animals for research. Mark Goldowitz, the founder of California Anti-SLAPP Project in Berkeley and SHAC USA’s lawyer in this case, said he believes Chiron is trying to “smear their critics. “SHAC USA is primarily a Web site and [the owners] are exercising their free-speech rights � or were. For whatever reason, [the] site is not operative now,” he added. SHAC USA admits it has targeted Chiron for condemnation as part of its larger goal of taking down Huntingdon Life Sciences, a biomedical testing laboratory in the United Kingdom accused of abusing animals, including mice, rats, dogs, monkeys and rabbits. That company came under attack in 1999 after covert videos showed researchers smacking beagle puppies and dissecting a live monkey. As part of its campaign, SHAC USA and its European parent group began pressuring medical research companies to stop doing business with Huntingdon Life Sciences. Chiron, which makes some products tested by HLS, refused to cut ties. Soon thereafter, Chiron’s lawyers say, employees received death threats and packages rigged with razors, found their homes vandalized, and on occasion were physically assaulted. Sean Lance, former president of Chiron’s board of directors, patent agent Amy Hessler, and Linda Short, vice president for corporate resources � the three named plaintiffs � found themselves under attack by angry mobs at their homes. “Often clad in black and wearing masks,” Bookin wrote in court papers, “they pound on doors, break windows, shout epithets through bullhorns, spray paint slogans on the employee’s car and driveway, and paper the neighborhood with leaflets stating that the employee is an animal abuser. “SHAC USA encourages and facilitates these actions,” he continued, “by posting on its Web site the names, home addresses and home telephone numbers of the employees selected for ‘home visits.’” SHAC USA’s lawyer argues that the animal-rights group � while sharing some of the extremists’ outrage and allowing their postings on the SHAC USA Web site � has never incited violence and, in fact, encourages activists to act within the law. “Chiron has not shown that SHAC USA was an ‘organizer’ of any of the protests Chiron complains of,” Goldowitz wrote, “nor that any illegal acts were ‘authorized, directed or ratified’ by SHAC USA.” In addition, he argued, the group’s statements about Chiron’s alleged animal abuses are protected. “The safety, efficacy and integrity of Chiron’s products, which directly impact the public health,” Goldowitz wrote, “are certainly matters of public interest and should be open to public debate.” Goldowitz said Tuesday that today’s hearing might not resolve the entire controversy. Currently, he said, SHAC USA is appealing a New Jersey federal court’s March conviction of the group and six of its members, for conspiracy, interstate stalking and other crimes against an HLS branch lab. Chiron also has filed other civil suits against the group in New Jersey and Washington state. “This,” Goldowitz said, “is only one piece of the puzzle.” Oral arguments in Chiron Corp. v. Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty USA Inc., A107538, are scheduled for 9:30 a.m.

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