Medium Rare

by Patrick Flanagan

Choice cuts from Acadiana's news media for Friday, Jan. 31, 2014:

Choice cuts from Acadiana's news media for Friday, Jan. 31, 2014:

New Iberia City Councilman David Merrill

A councilman haunted by his past
New Iberia City Councilman David Merrill's political future is in jeopardy. Merrill was elected to a second term in 2012, but it wasn't discovered until last year that he had two prior drug convictions - one for possession of marijuana and one for possession of cocaine. He pleaded guilty to those charges in 2003, but after completing a drug rehabilitation program, Merrill had the charges expunged from his record in June 2005.

According to this report from KLFY TV10, Merrill appeared in court last Friday before 16th Judicial District Judge Gerard Wattigny, who heard the state's case calling for the councilman's removal from office.

Though Wattigny has yet to render a decision, according to the state constitution, without a governor's pardon, convicted felons must wait 15 years from the completion of their sentence before being eligible for public office, which means Merrill - who was first elected in 2008 - jumped the gun by 12 years. A final decision is expected in the case next month.

In a September article by the Acadiana Advocate, Merrill says his arrest was at a different time in his life, and that he's a changed man. While that may be true, what hasn't changed is the law and its requirements for convicted felons seeking office.

A macaque mother and child living in captivity at the New Iberia Research Center.

UL responds to animal watchdog group's alllegations
UL Lafayette's primate research center in New Iberia has come under fire once again, with the animal rights group Stop Animal Exploitation Now! calling for $60,000 in retribution. In a press release issued Thursday, the group says federal records show a continuation of what they call the "gruesome" mistreatment of primates by employees of the research center.

"[T]he records reveal two chimps simply dropped dead [in Dec. 2012] during preparation for transport and that a ULL employee, who was later fired, knocked out the teeth of three [African Green] monkeys with a metal pole," the release states. "Additionally, an infant [macaque] with paralyzed legs and a necrotic spinal cord was euthanized [on May 3, 2013]."

UL's research center, the release notes, paid $38,571 in fines last year, and $18,000 in 2010 for unrelated incidents. "It is shocking that ULL/New Iberia is again connected to multiple incidents of chimp and monkey deaths and injuries," says SAEN Executive Director Michael Budkie in a prepared statement. "This lab should be severely punished for the deaths and injuries of all animals which were due to negligence."

The group also is calling for a $10,000 fine against Tulane University, which operates a similar research facility. According to the release, a rhesus monkey at the Tulane research lab died after being left unattended for too long in one of the facility's vans.

Complaints have been filed with the United States Department of Agriculture.

In response to the allegations, UL Media Relations Specialist Charlie Bier says that the incident involving the three African Green monkeys was the work of one employee, who was terminated as a result of those actions. "The monkeys were treated immediately," says Bier. "Because the [research center] takes animal welfare very seriously, the employee was placed on administrative leave and subsequently terminated. [M]anagers, veterinarians and supervisors completed re-training on Principles of Animal Handling.'"

Regarding the two chimps that dropped dead in December 2012, Bier says one, a female, died of renal failure resulting from type II diabetes, while the other, a male chimp, died of "a possible vascular incident." The decision to euthanize an infant macaque, says Bier, was made after pathologists deemed the animal to have an "irreversible congenital condition."

"The animal was humanely euthanized and it did not feel any pain as a result of this condition," explains Bier.

According to a letter dated March 7, 2013, from the Department of Health and Human Services, the university promptly reported each of the deaths as is required by federal law.

"The University of Louisiana at Lafayette's prompt reporting of these matters was consistent with the philosophy of self regulation and transparency," writes Animal Welfare Program Specialist Brent Morse of the DHHS. "We appreciate being informed of these matters and find no cause for further action by this office."