by:David GumpertThu, 06/13/2013Paul Freitag, foreman of the jury
It was a sight to warm the hearts of all in DATCP (the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection), not to mention the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration).
There was Vernon Hershberger, basking in the warm afternoon sunlight outside the Sauk County Courthouse in Baraboo, feeling relief at having emerged from the one-hour-45-minute sentencing hearing, and a three-year fight with DATCP, with only a $1,000 fine and $513 in court costs. In his pocket was a check from one of his members for $1,513 to pay for everything. And before you could say, "Way to go, Vernon," there were four members of the jury that convicted him of the single count of violating a DATCP hold order to stop him from selling food back in 2010--a hold order he readily acknowledged he had violated because he refused to let huge amounts of food rot and go to waste.
The jurors were telling him how sorry they were to have come back with the guilty verdict. They were saying they were upset the hold order was so severely redacted they didn't know it was based on the farmer not having the licenses the jurors ruled he didn't need. They were meeting his wife, Irma, and some of his ten children. The jurors were asking about becoming members of his food club AND buying raw milk. They were talking about organizing a group excursion to his farm. (For a fuller account of the jury's actions on behalf of Hershberger at the sentencing hearing, see my article in Modern Farmer.)
DATCP had spent more than three years pursuing Hershberger, spending untold millions in its obsession, and what the agency came away with was a farmer cleared by a jury of his peers to sell food privately to his food club members, slapped on the wrist by a judge who had clearly had enough of the farmer who stood his ground, and, in the ultimate slap, a cadre of new converts from among individuals who came to the case with nary a passing interest in raw milk and nutritionally dense foods.
The Sauk County Court had arranged for the jurors during the trial two weeks earlier to be bused into town from a remote parking lot. "They were afraid for our safety," said Michele Bollfrass-Hopp, a juror. "I was kind of scared. I thought his supporters were possibly dangerous. I found out what nice people they are...Now we are radicalized."
Inside the courthouse, Hershberger offered in a statement to the judge to try to work with DATCP, and come to understandings about what would be appropriate organization and oversight for his private operation. Afterward, he and his lawyers conversed with DATCP chief counsel, David Meany, and Wisconsin Department of Justice attorneys, about ways to get started. They wouldn't comment, but one of Hershberger's lawyers said Meany had discussed the possibility of DATCP encouraging regulation that would allow for alternative private organizational schemes. It was clearly all very tentative.
After talking with the jurors at length, Hershberger finally left the victory celebration. "It's time to get back to farming," he said with a grin.
The fact that five jurors appeared at the sentencing, rallying against their judge-blindered guilt verdict should be a revelation to the judge and government that people will stand for their rights. It took a jury trial, of course. The judge and government would have thrown Vernon and family into bankruptcy and poverty as they have been doing for 50 years.
I encourage any farmer on my lease contracts and any on herdshare programs to NOT make any contracts or agreements. I have seen what those governmental agencies do. They get farmers to agree to agency oversight, gaining jurisdiction over them, then change the regulations to untenable. I have seen them backrupt 23 farmers that way. Those families lost their farms and livelihood.
I REPEAT, FARMERS AND MEMBERS, PLEASE DO NOT MAKE ANY AGREEMENTS OR NEGOTIATIONS WITH THE GOVERNMENT REGARDING OUR FARMING CLUBS. If you have already begun any negotiations, please write a letter that negotiations have ceased, you decline any oversight and jurisdiction, and thank them for their time.
who: Aajonus | when: Fri, 06/14/2013 - 03:50 |
Vernon Hershberger said his case could help other farmers set up similar cooperative operations, like his Grazin’ Acres. Dannika Lewis reports.
By David Gumpert on June 13, 2013Photoby David Gumpert
The criminal misdemeanor trial of Wisconsin raw milk farmer Vernon Hershberger that drew national media attention ended more than two weeks ago, but Michele Bollfrass-Hopp, one of the jurors in the case, has been unable to get it out of her mind.
In the case, Vernon Hershberger, a 41-year-old Amish farmer, was put on trial for violating Wisconsin’s dairy and food licensing laws by selling unpasteurized milk. Cases in which farmers are prosecuted for selling unlicensed food for private use are rare. In one other case, last September, a jury of six people acquitted Minnesota farmer Alvin Schlangen on criminal misdemeanor charges similar to those facing Hershberger.
Bollfrass-Hopp been “haunted,” by the proceedings, she said, so much so that she has spent hours since the trial reading up about natural, raw, and nutrient-dense foods of the type Hershberger sells to about 200 members of a private food club in Loganville, WI.
“I have never been an organic food person, the whole raw milk thing has never been on my radar,” said the 51-year-old manager of a local telecommunications company. After the trial ended, she was “up till four in the morning reading about all this.”
As a result of her reading, she also became deeply troubled by what she now feels was the unnecessary withholding of relevant information from the jury—information that she says would likely have led the jury to acquit Hershberger of the single criminal count of which he was convicted. Hershberger faced a sentencing hearing Thursday at the Baraboo courthouse where he was tried, with a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $10,000 fine.
Hershberger was charged with four counts: three counts of not having appropriate licenses, and one count of violating a holding order. The jurors voted to acquit Hershberger of the licensing charges, but since Hershberger admitted during the trial to violating the holding order (which was issued to prevent him from distributing, or even moving, his products) they convicted him on the count. What they didn’t know was that the reason for issuing the holding order was because of Hershberger’s failure to have retail and dairy permits the DATCP said were required — the very charges they acquitted him of.
The members of the Hershberger jury were only allowed by the judge to see a redacted version of the hold order issued to Hershberger during a search of his farm and store by state agriculture and public health authorities on June 2, 2010; blotted out were the causes for the hold order.
If they had been able to see the whole document, some members of the jury believe they would have acquitted on all four counts.
Bollfrass-Hopp decided to take matters in to her own hands: she wrote the state judge overseeing the case, Guy Reynolds, expressing her objection to the information blackout. She wrote, in part: “In my opinion, our jury instructions required us to find Mr. Hershberger guilty of violating a food holding order because we were directed to determine whether a holding order had been issued and whether it had been violated—two events that Mr. Hershberger admitted to during his testimony. I believe that our three not guilty verdicts support the fact that the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection should never have issued a food holding order to Mr. Hershberger.”
She also decided to take off from work to attend the sentencing hearing Thursday. She wanted to see if the judge would mention her letter, and she wanted to meet Hershberger and offer him support.
Not only did Judge Reynolds mention the letter, he imposed a fine much smaller than the maximum: $1,000 plus $513 in court costs. And it wasn’t the only letter he received: Judge Reynolds said he received letters from three jurors in support of the farmer and that it was the first time in more than a dozen years on the bench that he had been contacted by jurors seeking leniency or acquittal for the man they had convicted.
Bollfrass-Hopp was joined at the hearing by three other jurors and an alternate. After the hearing, they mingled with Hershberger and his family, congratulating him on the relatively small fine.
The jurors had bonded personally and over the two weeks since the trial and become increasingly upset about the single guilty verdict they rendered. Bollfrass-Hopp said her letter was part of “a juror revolt” that had built up in the days following their decision, arrived at about 1 a.m. on May 25, after about four hours of deliberation. “The holding order was applied in a way that wasn’t right,” she said.
The jury foreman, Paul Freitag, was more forceful. An installer for a cable television company, Freitag said he decided to leave the letter writing to Bollfrass-Hopp because he feared his own letter might be harsher than hers, and seen as “criticizing the judge too much.” Freitag said he was upset that jurors “didn’t have the truth” and that “if we could have ruled on whether that was a legitimate hold order, we would probably have found him innocent.”
Judge Reynolds had ruled in a pretrial hearing against allowing the jury to see the full hold order in an effort to narrow the trial’s focus. He said more than once he didn’t want the jury ruling on DATCP’s authority to issue hold orders or licenses, nor on whether sales of raw milk should be allowed (they are prohibited in Wisconsin, except on an “incidental” basis).
As most juries do, the jurors of the Hershberger trial compromised. Freitag wanted to acquit on all counts; Robb Porubsky, a plant manager at a metal fabric company, was holding out for conviction on a charge that would penalize Hershberger for not having a retail license. Eventually Porubsky was persuaded to abandon his position for conviction on the retail license charge (“Hershberger was in a gray area,” Porubsky decided) in exchange for Freitag giving up his lone vote for acquittal on the hold order. Everyone was at peace, until they got home and began reading in articles about the reasons the hold order had been issued to Hershberger.
Aside from leniency for Hershberger, there have been a few other unexpected outcomes from the trial. Porubsky has been motivated to start growing his own corn and soybeans. And Freitag and Bolfrass-Hopp, along with two other jurors who attended the hearing said they hope to visit Hershberger’s farm before long, and possibly sign up as members so they can try some of the raw milk they spent so much time in court learning about.
(David E. Gumpert writes about food and health, and is the author of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Food Rights: The Escalating Battle Over Who Decides What We Eat, due out in June.)
Wisconsin Eye does a wonderrfull on farm interview with Vernon Hershberger.
Vernon Hershberger, Raw Milk Farmer – Defending the Food that God Created:Wisconsin raw-milk farmer acquitted on 3 of 4 criminal charges – June 4, 2013
THE MORNING SHOW with Patrick Timpone Vernon Hershberger Raw Milk Farmer Wisconsin raw-milk farmer acquitted on 3 of 4 criminal charges The trial of Vernon Hershberger captured the attention of health freedom and food rights activists all over the nation. Mr. Hershberger has been the face of farmers all over America trying to provide [...]
'Let Them Eat Grass' documentary to expose massive government tyranny against small-scale farmers producing real food
(NaturalNews) There is a war being waged against real food - no, not the heavily-processed, chemical-laden garbage that fills the aisles of most major supermarkets today, but actual wholesome food grown on clean, family-scale farms across the U.S. And...
Published on Jun 4, 2013
June 03, 2013 6:30 pm • ROB SCHULTZ | Wisconsin State Journal | firstname.lastname@example.org | 608-252-6487
A Sauk County judge told state officials Monday that he’ll consider their motion to revoke Vernon Hershberger’s bail, but he rendered it meaningless by scheduling it with the raw milk farmer’s sentencing hearing.
Prosecuting attorneys filed a motion Friday asking Sauk County Circuit Judge Guy Reynolds to send Hershberger to jail on Monday after he told a reporter last week that he had continued to sell milk, in violation of his bail terms.
Lawyers for both sides were told early Monday that Reynolds wouldn’t consider any motions that day, according to defense attorney Glenn Reynolds (no relation). The judge then scheduled both hearings for June 13 during a phone conference with the attorneys later Monday, Reynolds added.
The judge’s decision constituted another victory for the defense in the case that saw Hershberger acquitted on three of four counts filed against him by the state during a six-day trial last month.
“What’s he going to do, put him in jail for an hour and then set him free?” Glenn Reynolds said.
Hershberger, 41, was acquitted May 25 by a Sauk County jury on charges of producing, processing and selling milk without proper state licenses.
He was found guilty of one count of violating a holding order on products on his farm after a 2010 raid by state agents.
That meant Hershberger had to continue to operate under bail conditions set in January 2012 by the judge that included an order that he not sell or process dairy products without a license.
Last week, Hershberger told The Capital Times that he continued to sell raw milk and other farm products after the state told him to stop.
“It is a concern that any defendant would engage in and openly admit to actions which clearly disregard the court-ordered conditions of release (on bail),” wrote assistant attorneys general Eric Defort and Phillip Ferris in their motion to Guy Reynolds.
At the time the motion was filed, defense attorney Glenn Reynolds called the prosecution’s
continue reading: http://host.madison.com/news/local/crime_and_courts/raw-milk-farmer-s-bail-revocation-hearing-rendered-meaningless-by/article_8aa684a0-ecd9-5c2c-883a-38cc1eff3f27.html#ixzz2VLC453Qq
Bid to revoke bail of farmer in raw milk case called 'vindictive'
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Reynolds said Saturday that he anticipates there would have to be a lengthy hearing on the state's request to revoke bail, which would likely delay sentencing on the holding order violation. "Vernon Hershberger has been through enough," Reynolds said.