25 May 2013
By Heather Callaghan
Into the wee hours of last night, after about 16 hours of deliberating, the Baraboo, Wisconsin court decided not to wait until Tuesday for a verdict.
Four criminal misdemeanor charges are aimed at Vernon Hershberger for providing fresh food to his community through a contractual agreement with members. Paraphrased by Derrick J Freeman the "crimes" include:
- distributing milk from his “Grazin’ Acres” dairy farm without a milk producer’s license,
- operating a retail food establishment without a state license,
- operating a dairy plant without a state license, and
- violating a “hold order” placed on his dairy products after the state raided his farm.
Prosecution (State) tried to drive home the twisted view that Vernon's family and barn was a "retail operation," instead of the membership agreement where the members (who are owners) thereof put in a lot of the hard work there, like a co-op. Also, there have never been complaints. The 2010 armed raid was initiated by the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP).
Along with the growing list of words that shall not be named during the trial, including liberty, Judge Guy Reynolds had shoo-ed the jury out of the room frequently. Witnesses had a difficult time mincing words, almost having to mince the truth in order to testify because they couldn't freely discuss membership details, or why they chose Vernon's food. Jury members were often left in the dark and coached to only look at LAW.
Again, there is no other way to provide farm fresh foods in Wisconsin - so of course, no matter what, he is a law breaker. They are charging him in part for not having licenses and calling it retail. There is no such thing as a raw milk license in Wisconsin and so how could he ever operate this Grade A facility that they want to smear? The State argued that some license was available for $265 and why didn't he "just get it" and pay the price?
In the last arguments, Defense told the jury they could vote by conscience and to send Vernon back to his family as a free man. Defense gave the jury a crash course in abuse of government authority "which led to creation of jury system: 'Conscience of the community.'" They referenced Orwell's "Newspeak" for the lack of logic: 3 years of battle and all the State really could argue was a farmer "filing the wrong paperwork." And Prosecution had 1,000 pages of data but did not interview one member. Defense called that a "Sad use of power & pathetic waste" and compared the trial to Prohibition.
The judge looked at the jury and around 7 pm said: "(you) must base your verdict on the law I give you." So the judge thinks he gives the law. Can't even put into words what an assassination of justice it is that a judge would even say that. Later the judge read "instruction NOT to be swayed by conscience." Prosecution echoed Reynolds, probably fearing how they looked, and told the jury it is not about whether Vernon is a good man or not . . . also accusing Defense of mis-characterization of crimes saying: "The words that matter here are the instructions on the law. Law comes from judge." (Source)
VERDICT: NOT guilty on first three counts;
GUILTY on last count of violating holding order.
That last count held the maximum penalty which now includes one year in jail and $10,000 in fines.
This was a completely uphill battle for three years with a judge, State, and agents clearly going after him with bias - even obfuscating truth to the jury. Food freedom advocates, including Vernon and his family, are hailing it as a victory. On three counts, the jury voted by conscience and it sets a precedent dealing with license requirements versus membership agreements.
Do you wonder why Vernon cut the tape and continued distributing foods after the State destroyed them (including his family's personal food) and closed his pantry? First he went to jail on $500 bail and had to sign an agreement to stop. He obeyed. Then he thought about it and prayed. Something was impressed upon him that it would be wrong, and worse, to stop feeding his neighbors. So he acted on conscience and continued distributing - plus his family was only left with a two-day's supply of food and they were probably hungry!
Everything happens for a reason.
Reporting from David Gumpert:
Hershberger holding order guilt irony: if he hadn't violated order, wouldn't have gotten criminal trial & jury that acquitted on licensing.
During that armed raid, agents stole his computer and personal files, but of course there is no punishment for that and no recompense. The judge declared that the armed raid and seizure of property is NOT of use of force. It's incredible that anything positive came from this kangaroo court case. It's upsetting to think they might extract jail time and exorbitant fines for daring to disobey a detrimental holding order.
As more details emerge, including potential jail sentence, we will share accordingly.