|Image: Farm Food Freedom Coalition|
Farmer Acquitted by Jury Now Threatened With Jail Time by Wisconsin Department of Justice
Just over a week ago, a heated battle went down in Baraboo, Wisconsin and farmer Vernon Hershberger received a mostly victorious verdict despite major odds stacked against him. A jury found him not guilty for three charges dealing with lack of licensing while distributing fresh foods to herd share members; and guilty for breaking a holding order when he cut the tape to feed his family and continued distributing after a 2010 raid. Agents had ruined his food by pouring blue dye into a giant bulk tank, ruined his personal food, stole his computer and files and left his family with two days’ food. This guilty count still holds a penalty of one year in jail and $10,000 in fines.
So, within a few days after jury acquittal, Eric Defort and Phillip Ferris, attorneys for the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ), move to have the judge revoke the terms of the original bond and jail Vernon Hershberger before his sentencing is decided. They are standing with Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP), the prosecutors, with this move and still trying to twist this into a business license thing.
Let’s back up the train a bit because these trials and hearings have been going on for a long time now. In January 2012 Vernon Hershberger was arraigned at the Sauk County Courthouse on four criminal misdemeanor charges for violations of the state food and dairy code; after initially appearing before Judge Guy Reynolds, he was released on a $500 bond after a January 2010 raid with the bond containing conditions he was not to violate. That’s the holding order Vernon later decided to break, believing that it would be wrong to stop feeding the people who depended on that supply, including 10 children and his wife.
In March 2012, Defort and Ferris sent a letter to judge Guy Reynolds requesting a revocation of Vernon Hershberger’s release order, based on the state’s contention that Hershberger was violating terms of the release. The judge, in a court hearing in Baraboo, refused to hear the request, telling the prosecutors that he only responded to motions, not to letters. The prosecutors never followed up with a motion . . . until more than 14 months later – just after the jury acquittal. The motion was filed the morning of Friday, May 31, 2013.
The state filed its motion shortly after a Capital Times online article on Vernon Hershberger posted May 29. The motion claims “the article reflects that Hershberger admits that he violated the bail conditions ‘all along’.”
I can tell you the truth now. We never shut down. We continued to feed our community. That’s the way it continued all along.
- sell food without a retail food establishment license
- manufacture or process dairy products without a dairy plant license
- nor sell or distribute milk produced on his farm without a milk producer license
This action by DATCP is disappointing because we had hoped that the verdict would trigger a re-evaluation at DATCP of its approach to enforcement in the agricultural community. The verdict offered an opportunity to open dialogue and a badly needed mending of the damaged relationship between the Department and family farms. It is unfortunate that the government has instead chosen to pursue more of the same: expensive, heavy-handed enforcement that further erodes trust of the community.
On June 3 at 1:00 p.m. there will be a telephone conference to set a date for sentencing on the hold order conviction. At that time DOJ will request a revocation of the January 2012 order releasing Hershberger, i.e. extra retroactive jail time. (see update below)
If the jury found him not guilty on the need to have licenses, there was no legal basis for the holding order.
Hershberger judge puts off motion to jail WI farmer till June 13, when sentencing hearing will be held.
Hershberger holding order guilt irony: if he hadn’t violated order, wouldn’t have gotten criminal trial & jury that acquitted on licensing.
An interesting take and conversation on the recent developments appears at Gumpert’s blog, The Complete Patient.
Also check out Farm Food Freedom Coalition
For additional information on raw milk: realmilk.com
Original press release: Wisconsin Aims to Jail Amish Farmer
Background stories from most recent to earliest:
- Hershberger Verdict In After Judge Orders Jury NOT to Vote With Conscience
- Hershberger Trial: List of Things You Can’t Say and Wear Gets Bigger
- Breaking: No Mention of “Liberty” Allowed During Hershberger Raw Milk Trial
- Farmer Faces Over 2 Years Jail, $10K Fines for Feeding Community
- Pre-Trial Hearing Begins For Farmer Targeted by Raw Milk Police; Legal Concerns Begin to Mount
- Last Year’s Rally & Hearings for Vernon Hershberger with Footage of Inspections