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PETA slaps DVM, wife with conspiracy charges


East Brunswick, N.J.-The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has declared legal war on a veterinarian and his wife.

East Brunswick, N.J.-The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has declared legal war on a veterinarian and his wife.

The latest showdown between Dr. Howard Baker and PETA ended unfavorably for the embattled veterinarian, and the animal rights group, accused of marring the practitioner's reputation, is taking him back to court.

PETA isn't finished with the Bakers, animal rights attorney Philip Hirschkop says. Now the veterinarian and his wife, Jackie, must defend themselves in a Virginia civil claim alleging they conspired to attack PETA with a "bogus" lawsuit, which Baker recently lost in court. The animal rights group wants $75,000 in compensatory damages, court records show.

"This lawsuit is about people who come attacking PETA to shut it down," Hirschkop says. "Let this be a warning: Don't file bogus claims against us. The Bakers should've walked away from this fight years ago, but they wanted to keep it alive. I have no sympathy for this guy."


After being dragged through the press, personally and professionally defamed and stripped of their life's savings, the Bakers say they can take no more. In 1997, an undercover PETA agent in Baker's employ covertly videotaped the veterinarian slapping a dog. Two years later, the recording had aired on national news networks and the talk show circuit. The DVM, accused of widespread abuse, was convicted in 1999 on 14 counts of animal cruelty, which a New Jersey Superior Court overturned the following year. Although his license was reinstated, Baker says his practice has never recovered, prompting him to file a civil suit against PETA last year.

The lawsuit, struck down by a federal court jury in January, alleged malicious prosecution, requesting $300,000 in legal fees and $894,00 lost earnings from a practice forever damaged by the "PETA publicity machine."

"My practice is destroyed; we've lost a lot of our assets," Baker says. "Losing our case is just like another defeat because the courts are saying we don't deserve anything for being put through this. Now we face this lawsuit, which I think is just another cynical tactic by PETA to make us hire another lawyer; it's an attempt to completely bankrupt us."

Jackie Baker, who for the first time is named in PETA legal dealings, says she's emotionally wrought: "This is devastating emotionally, financially. It's devastating the way our neighbors treat us. I'm a marketing professional who hasn't been able to work for four years because of this case. It has seemed like a witch hunt."

No support

The pursuit came not only from PETA but the profession, Baker says. While animal activists kept busy defaming the veterinarian, the New Jersey licensing board maintained its investigation into Baker's medical practices three years after being vindicated by an appeals court, he says.

"They took my license immediately after the municipal court verdict and continued to investigate me after reinstating it," Baker says. "I received only a few letters of support from the veterinary community. The profession distanced itself from me until I was exonerated. The scars from that, they're still there."

Questionable jurisdiction

Perhaps the only hope Baker has of fending off PETA's lawsuit is by challenging the case's jurisdiction. In Baker's civil case against the group, the veterinarian temporarily forced PETA to remove the undercover video used in the municipal court trial from its Web site. PETA attorney Hirschkop claims the injunction temporarily shut the site down, thereby impeding its business practices. That action points to conspiracy, he says, and since the site originated in Virginia, that's where the lawsuit stems.

Because the Bakers live in New Jersey, a judge, at presstime, was considering a motion to dismiss.

"We'll just go file it again in New Jersey," Hirschkop says. "Howard Baker could have avoided all this outrageous publicity. We offered to repeatedly drop our lawsuit if he'd drop his. We're not out to kill a fly with a baseball bat. Baker is not a threat to PETA. PETA does not care about Howard Baker."

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