Authorities: If you say a rooster's not a chicken, can it fight?

Is a fighting rooster a chicken?

The Evangeline Parish Police Jury asked the state Attorney General’s Office to officially weigh in on the issue, questioning whether uncertainty over the fowl’s scientific name might invalidate the 2008 state ban on cockfighting.

The state’s top legal minds determined this month that a chicken is a chicken is a chicken.

At issue was whether roosters that are pitted against each other in cockfights fit the legal definition of “chicken” used in the state ban, which defines the fowl in question as “any bird which is of the species Gallus gallus.”

Evangeline Parish Assistant District Attorney J. Gregory Vidrine said in a letter to the Attorney General’s Office that the issue arose after a group of residents asked the Police Jury to license a cockfighting operation in the parish.

Vidrine wrote that the Police Jury had no intention of sanctioning illegal activity but that “the interested parties maintain that the ‘chickens’ that they intend to fight are of a species other than Gallus gallus.”

“Brief research on the animal suggests that Gallus gallus, also known as the red junglefowl, is typically found in southeast Asia and may be on the verge of extinction,” Vidrine wrote.

That raises the question, Vidrine wrote, of whether the Police Jury would be prohibited from licensing a cockfighting operation if the fighting birds “will be of a species other than Gallus gallus.”

After five pages of references to past court cases and scientific journals, the Attorney General’s Office concluded that fighting roosters are among several subspecies that fall under the scientific name used in the cockfighting law.

“From a genetic and morphological standpoint, there is, currently, no way for a ‘chicken’ not to be a member of the proscribed G. gallus genus and species,” the opinion stated.

The opinion went on to state that regardless of any ambiguity in the scientific name, the clear intent of the cockfighting ban is to prohibit the fighting of roosters.

Louisiana was the last state to ban cockfights, in which two roosters face off in an often deadly battle with small blades or pick-like gaffs attached to their legs or with their natural spurs. The fights were widespread in south Louisiana before the 2008 ban and still continue clandestinely.

As recently as 2011, police cited 30 people at a rooster fight in Sunset, which was once one of the centers of cockfighting in Louisiana.

The Evangeline Parish Police Jury had been petitioned for a license by 73-year-old Jim Demourelle, of Ville Platte, who has for years been a vocal advocate of cockfighting in the state.

Demourelle said he was a bit perplexed by the Attorney General’s opinion because it did not address the central argument he had made to the Police Jury.

Demourelle said he does indeed quibble with the scientific taxonomy used in the state legislation, but the main issue he raised is whether the state’s “Right to Farm” law allows him to engage in the longtime rural tradition of cockfighting, even if the Legislature and others believe the practice is barbaric.

“It totally sidestepped the question I asked,” he said.

Demourelle said he plans to keep pushing for a license but is not sure of his next step.

Besides the “Right to Farm” argument, Demourelle said he believes there are other possible legal challenges that hinge on property rights.

“My argument is that, first of all, game chickens are private property,” he said. “… That law clearly violates your right to use your property.”

The Attorney General’s office declined comment.

“The opinion speaks for itself and should serve as our comment. It is against our policy to comment further on opinions,” said Laura Gerdes Colligan, spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Justice.

Evangeline Parish Police Jury President Bryan Vidrine said the Police Jury does not have a stance on the issue and had simply asked for the opinion on behalf of Demourelle, who showed up at meeting earlier this year with a crowd of about 50 supporters.

“They filled up the room when they came,” he said.

Bryan Vidrine said the Police Jury does not plan to go against the advice of the Attorney General.

“I don’t think there is really a big fight to get it or not,” he said. “We’ll just do whatever the Attorney General says.”

Capitol news bureau reporter Mark Ballard contributed to this story.