The criminal trial for Amish dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger of Loganville, Wisconsin has been rescheduled for May 20 at the Sauk County Courthouse in Baraboo. The trial is slated to run five days; it had been scheduled to start on January 7. A pre-trial hearing in the case has been set for May 7. The reason for the postponement was a freedom of religion claim made at a pre-trial hearing by Hershberger’s attorney, Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) Vice President Elizabeth Rich.
Hershberger has been charged with four misdemeanor counts for alleged violations of the Wisconsin food and dairy code. The charges are (1) operating a retail food establishment without a license, (2) operating a dairy farm as a milk producer without a license, (3) operating a dairy plant without a license and (4) violating a holding order issued by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). The holding order prohibited anyone from removing food products from refrigerators that had been taped in Hershberger’s farm store.
Hershberger’s trial was postponed during a December 21 pre-trial hearing before Sauk County Circuit Court Judge Guy Reynolds. The developments leading to the postponement are complex. Judge Reynolds ruled at the pre-trial hearing that an expert witness for the defense, Dr. Ted Beals, would not be allowed to testify at Hershberger’s trial after lawyers for the state Department of Justice argued that Beals’ testimony would not be relevant to any of the charges against Hershberger; Rich had asked that Beals be allowed to testify on the grounds that the safety of raw milk in general would be an issue at the trial. In June 2010, in conjunction with the hold order, DATCP issued a Summary Special Order prohibiting Hershberger from any further sales or distribution of raw milk and raw milk products; in the order, DATCP cites the inherent risks of consuming raw milk as one of the grounds for issuing the Summary Special Order.
Elizabeth Rich, Esq.
When Rich brought up the Summary Special Order in support of having Dr. Beals testify, Judge Reynolds responded that Hershberger could have raised the issue by requesting an administrative hearing on the Summary Special Order back in 2010 but failed to do so. Rich countered that Hershberger’s religious beliefs forbid him from taking others to court and claimed that prohibiting Beals’ testimony because Hershberger failed to request an administrative hearing on the Summary Special Order violated the farmer’s First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution. She asked the judge to allow for briefs to be submitted to the court on the First Amendment freedom of religion issue. When the judge granted the request, Wisconsin Department of Justice lawyer Eric Defort told the court he would not be able to submit the brief before January 7 due to his work schedule. Judge Reynolds has scheduled a hearing on the freedom of religion claim for March 18.
Further updates on the Hershberger trial will be posted on this website as events warrant.
Video: The Court Summons Hershberger Raw Dairy Farm
Video posted December 10, 2011 by therawmilkparty on YouTube