Dec. 10, 2003 — An estimated 600 supporters of a class action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture converged on the District Court on St. Croix Wednesday as lawyers representing Virgin Islands farmers argued an appeal before a panel of judges from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The case is part of a national class action charging officials from the USDA with discrimination in the awarding of federal grants, housing loans and other financial assistance.
Plaintiffs say they were directed to sign their names on waiting lists which were never acted on while other applicants were given different instructions which led to the receipt of federal aid.
"We estimate that approximately two billion dollars that should have been distributed to the people of the Virgin Islands was not, and so we have filed this lawsuit to try and recover it," said attorney Douglas Inman.
In February, District Judge Thomas K. Moore ruled that Virgin Islanders should be included in the national group of plaintiffs seeking relief as part of the class action. "The U.S. government didn't like that, so they've now appealed that to the Third Circuit and we were in court today arguing that we should be able to continue to be able to pursue this as a class action," Inman said.
Some 30 plaintiffs and supporters were allowed into the courtroom to hear Inman's arguments, among them Gail Chaing who said in all her years of activism, she could never recall a day when 600 people showed up to support an action in District Court.
"I have never seen 600 people in the halls of the justice court, federal building, patiently waiting to find out the outcome in this matter of the class action, which was started because USDA violated the people of the Virgin Islands' civil rights," Chaing said Wednesday.
The attorney said between three and four thousand Virgin Islanders are represented in the class action, many for having allegedly been denied a chance to participate in the USDA's housing loan program.
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