Pre-Trial Hearing Begins For Farmer Targeted by Raw Milk Police; Legal Concerns Begin to Mount

Activist Post

This is an update to the ongoing legal saga of Vernon Hershberger who is in a battle with the raw milk police. The First Amendment may be on the line as well.

3/22/13: Vernon Hershberger’s pre-trial hearing began in blizzard-like conditions this past Monday. Regardless, at least 100 activists still came out to show their support according to David Gumpert writing for The Complete Patient.

However, inside the courtroom, Gumpert describes the situation as a “legal pretzel” that should have everyone who cares about the First Amendment, as well as the right to consume healthy products, more than a little worried:

The bad news? Most of those attending the hearing probably couldn’t tell you what the hell the hearing was really about. The whole thing, as I understand it, is about whether Hershberger’s lawyers can call witnesses to testify about the benefits of raw milk. The state is arguing he can’t, since he didn’t exercise his right to appeal the holding order back in 2010. Hershberger says his religious beliefs prohibited him initiating a legal action against the state in the form of the appeal. But don’t hold me to what I’ve just said. (Source)

Ultimately, this case could come down to The Bible vs. The Bureaucracy. Mr. Hershberger is part of the Amish community and his faith generally prevents him from taking legal action, which early on in this saga may have had wide-ranging ramifications. For background information about the complexities of this case, please see the various updates below and see David Gumpert’s must-read full update HERE.

Update (2/22/13): We would like to encourage readers to take 1 day out of their busy schedules to show your support for Vernon Hershberger by attending a pre-trial hearing that is now set for March 18, 2013 at 1 PM at Sauk County Courthouse, 515 Oak Street Baraboo, Wisconsin.

A flyer can be downloaded here, courtesy of, printed out and shared with your friends, posted around town, or plastered on the university bulletin boards. Get active and raise awareness to the plight of this peaceful farmer who never injured anyone. Get started waking up people in your neighborhood with this flyer and the article below which provides details of Vernon’s case and other updates about the legal proceedings.

Update: We have just learned through Right to Choose Healthy Food that the Vernon Hershberger’s trial has been postponed yet again, this time until May 20, 2013. The full press release from the News Republic staff can be read below. A map and directions for the rally can be found here.

A trial on charges related to the sale of raw milk against Loganville farmer Vernon Hershberger has been postponed due to a last-minute motion filed by his attorney in court Friday. 

During a telephone conversation with the News Republic on Saturday, Hershberger said the motion — which was not immediately available — related to his First Amendment rights to religious freedom. 

‘Because of my religious beliefs, I do not believe in taking anyone to court,’ Hershberger said. ‘The only option I had was to disregard the holding order placed on me and allow the members to come and get their food.’

Hershberger said his attorney was allowed to file the motion and prosecutors in the case requested additional time to consider their response. Sauk County Circuit Court Judge Guy Reynolds accepted the request and agreed to push back the trial, which had been scheduled to begin Jan. 7. 

Prosecutors representing the Wisconsin Department of Justice could not be reached for comment Saturday. 

The delay is the second time the trial has been postponed. The case previously was pushed back following a hearing in August.

Original article with background details can be found below….

A little more than a week ago we covered the ongoing battle of Vernon Hershberger with the Wisconsin legal system. Hershberger was raided by the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, citing a failure to have proper retail licensing for distribution. He subsequently had his raw milk stocks destroyed by injecting blue dye, had his farm shut down, and was arrested.

While in jail, he signed an agreement to comply with a ban on distribution and posted a $500 bond to gain his release. However, after further thought, Vernon considered the spurious accusations and decided to declare his own food independence; he cut the tape and resumed his farming and distribution. He has been looking at potentially 3 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for his resistance.

In March, people flew in from all over the country to attend a support rally prior to Hershberger’s first court appearance. A full-length documentary, Let Them Eat Grass (trailer below) will soon be released that will give full documentation to Hershberger’s plight, as well as highlighting the activism which has perhaps aided in his trial being repeatedly postponed.

We are happy to report a new development in this case.

A rally had been announced ahead of Vernon’s latest trial date of the week of January 7, 2013. However, it looks the momentum –  a vigorous defense issued by his attorney, Elizabeth Rich – has pressured yet another postponement, this time for several months or longer.

According to a letter sent by the Hershbergers:

Members and Friends, 

First a very big Thank You to you all for your prayers and all the other means of support that have been rendered on our behalf! We appreciate it very much! Sometimes the load gets to be pretty heavy. It sure was good to see the work that the Lord did today in the way things worked out. We trust that he has a special plan for letting this all happen in this way! 

Yes! The trial has been postponed … at least 4 months but maybe longer than that. This is all due to the wonderful Attorney that we have and her quick wit, with which she handled the proceedings today. The State proposed to kick out all professional witnesses from testifying at trial due to this being a case about license and not about raw milk. They had persuaded the Judge to do it their way when Elizabeth brought up the 1st amendment issue in that I have a sincerely held religious belief that I would not take anyone to court. Therefore the only options I had when the holding order was put in place was to take it to an Administrative Court or to disregard it. Being that we don’t believe in taking someone to Court our only option was to disregard the Holding Order and face the consequences. She asked for permission to file a brief in regards to the first Amendment rights. The State claimed they don’t have time for something like that over the Holidays with the trial so close. The Judge said he will give us time to file the brief and in order to give each side the time that they need we will have to postpone the trial and that was that. We will have a scheduling conference call on Jan 4 to decide the dates for any up coming hearings and the trial. 

We are hoping this will give everyone a chance to enjoy their Holidays in a more relaxed way and spend more time with family and friends. 

Vernon, Erma, and Crew

David Gumpert, writing for The Complete Patient adds that the complexities on both sides were raised on issues such as “jury nullification, legal intent, attempts to block witnesses from testifying, differences in how to define ‘consumers’, the extent of DATCP’s authority, and any number of other issues … and this all before the trial began.”

The latest hearing, as alluded to in Vernon’s note above, was one surrounding the foundational First Amendment right to freedom of religious belief and exercise thereof. Gumpert provides additional context:

The judge asked the prosecutors whether Hershberger had had an opportunity to challenge the findings earlier. A prosecutor said the Summary Special Order included a recitation of appeal rights — Hershberger could have filed an administrative appeal of the Order, but he did not. Based on that, the judge ruled that Beals’ testimony could not come in.  

Rich said that, to the extent the judge’s ruling was based on Hershberger ‘s failure to file the administrative appeal of the orders, it violated his First Amendment rights, because he has a sincerely held religious belief that prevents him from being the aggressor in any legal proceedings.

( . . . ) 

Hershberger’s religious beliefs stem from his upbringing in an Amish community. The Amish generally avoid taking legal action, and even in some cases from hiring lawyers to defend themselves when they are prosecuted.

We will continue to keep you posted about new developments in the Vernon Hershberger case, as well as the wider fight for food freedom.

As we head through the holiday season, let us not forget to share the good news of the many victories, even amid the vigorous move by state bureaucracy to shut down natural health and consumer choice. Here are 7 Victories for Raw Milk Freedom Advocates. And here is a link that was added to David Gumpert’s piece above that cites a recent victory in Michigan for Shady Grove Farm; the judge ruled that they were in fact protected by the Right to Farm Act.

Please add your own links of victory in the comment section below that we can share with others and help maintain momentum in the food freedom revolution.

Let Them Eat Grass: The Food Freedom Revolution

Read other articles by Activist Post Here

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