Meridian, Miss. The Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, Inc. is suing Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood over comments he made about the organization in October. Hood asked Mississippians to be cautious in dealing with the group after concerns were raised about a possible scam.
Thomas Burrell is the president of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, Inc. He says the reason for the lawsuit is because Attorney General Jim Hood has interfered and will continue to interfere with the group's right to associate with its members and is preventing the group from being able to petition the government.
"And we are asking here again, a federal judge to declare that we do have these rights," Burrell explains. "We're asking a federal judge to instruct Mr. Hood to cease and desist from interfering with our rights. We're asking a federal judge to force Mr. Hood make a public statement, acknowledging that he did indeed act negligently."
The Attorney General's Office says it stands by its initial comments, saying it felt alarmed enough to issue a warning about this issue and that the deadline has passed to file a settlement in the black farmers settlement case. Burrell contends these meetings are nothing new though.
"As an advocacy association, we have been advocating for the rights of socially disadvantaged farmers now for over 10 years," Burrell points out. "We have held approximately 30 to 40 meetings in the state of Mississippi."
In his warning issued back in October, Attorney General Hood also warned consumers about handing over any money to receive assistance with anything relating to the black farmers settlement. However, Burrell says any payment collected so far has been for member dues.
"The Constitution allowed you to represent your members and that your members will be dues paying members," Burrell adds. "So, we don't charge fees, but we can only if they want us to represent them, or our attorney's represent them, they have to establish what is called standing."
Burrell says a judge will not allow the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, Inc. to represent the public at large, which is why there are member dues.