Finding that Montana ranchers Jeanne and Steve Charter willfully refused to pay the beef checkoff, Judicial Officer William G. Jenson Sept. 22 denied their request to reopen the case and ordered them to pay past assessments, late payment charges and $12,000 in civil penalties within 60 days.

"Cattlemen like the idea that there is no free ride," Les McNeill, Texas cattle feeder and Cattlemen's Beef Board Chairman, said of the finding.

"Only a tiny percentage of beef producers try to avoid paying the checkoff, because most of us know that everybody benefits from this self-help program, so everybody should pay. We're glad to see that the judicial officer upheld this basic premise."

In his decision and order, which upheld the April 26 findings of Administrative Law Judge Dorothea A. Baker, the judicial officer wrote: "In light of the number of Respondents' (Charters) violations, the willful nature of Respondents' violations, and the serious nature of Respondents' violations, I am perplexed by the small amount of the civil penalty recommended by Complainant (USDA) for each violation . . . despite the facts of this proceeding, which would appear to warrant a significantly higher civil penalty, I am reluctant to assess a civil penalty larger than recommended..."

The judicial officer's order calls on the Charters to: cease and desist failing to pay assessments due and later charges that may have accrued; pay the civil penalty of $12,000 to USDA as previously levied; and to pay past-due assessments and late-charges of $417.79 to the Montana Beef Council. All payments are due within 60 days of the Charters being served with the order.

The Charters had claimed that National Cattlemen's Beef Association was using checkoff dollars to support its lobbying efforts, something prohibited by the Beef Act and Order. Judicial Officer Jenson found: "Instead, the record supports a finding that the National Cattlemen's Beef Association has not used funds collected by the Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board for the purpose of influencing government policy or action in violation of (the Act)."

The $1-head beef checkoff is collected at the point of every sale of a bovine animal and is administered by the Cattlemen's Beef Board. This
110-member board is appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture to oversee collection of the $1-per-head checkoff, to certify state beef councils, to implement provisions of the Federal order establishing the checkoff and to evaluate the effectiveness of checkoff funded programs.