Attorney Judith McGeary pictured with raw milk courier supporters
In July 2016 state and local government officials raided a Texas courier’s van at a Houston area drop site when she was delivering raw milk from a licensed Texas dairy. A Harris County District Attorney subsequently brought charges against the courier for distributing raw milk and other foods (eggs and cheese) without a license. On June 14, the District Attorney and the courier’s attorney negotiated a settlement where all raw milk-related charges were dropped. The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) board member and Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance Executive Director Judith McGeary provides an account of the proceedings.
Negotiations on June 14 with the Harris County, Texas District Attorney’s Office resulted in dropping all of the raw milk-related charges against the Houston-area courier.
During the negotiations—conducted under the watchful gaze of some 50+ raw milk supporters who packed the courtroom—the District Attorney said that the issue of raw milk wasn’t the only or even primary focus. She instead claimed that the four charges, for failure to have a food establishment permit and for unsanitary conditions on two separate occasions, were about not only the milk, but even more about the cheese and eggs the inspectors had observed at the same time.
Note that this is the first time such a claim has been made. In all previous discussions, the health department’s arguments have focused on the raw milk. So the District Attorney’s starting point represented a clear retreat by the department—perhaps reflecting the fact that the State Health Department backed away from pursuing consumers and their agents last fall after we publicized their actions.
Interestingly, when the State Health Department inspector showed up last summer, he specifically told the courier that he had no problem with the eggs…yet, when it came to the June 14 trial, it was the biggest issue for the local health department since she was selling her own eggs rather than just acting as a courier.
The District Attorney agreed to drop two of the charges completely, and the courier pled no contest to the remaining two charges with respect to the claims about the eggs only. She was assessed a fine for those two charges, but they were reduced and she was placed on deferred adjudication—which means the charges will be dismissed without a conviction after 90 days, if she is not cited for anything in that time period.
A huge thanks goes to all of you who packed the courtroom for the proceedings. It was clear that the strong presence of support encouraged the prosecutor to negotiate the original criminal charges. We also thank the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund and attorney Lee McMillian for representing the courier.
The crowd of raw milk supporters included several people who had their raw milk taken away when Harris County brought the sheriff to their drop point. But others in the courtroom were total strangers…raw milk customers and farmers who were there to show the support of the community as a whole.
In a particularly uplifting moment, the raw milk consumers donated funds to cover the courier’s fine on the spot!
Raw milk has faced a lot of ups and downs over the last decade in Texas. Our work began in 2009, when the State Health Department staff proposed regulations that would have explicitly outlawed any group arrangements, and required farmers to turn the names of their customers over to the government. We succeeded in stopping those proposed regulations, and since then, we’ve continued our work to protect the rights of both farmers and consumers under the existing law, while also working to expand the options through legislation. We’ve won some battles—including getting the State Health Department to stop harassing consumers last summer and moving the raw milk bill through the Senate this spring—even as overzealous regulators continue to try to find ways to stop us.
YOUR FUND AT WORK
Services provided by FTCLDF go beyond legal representation for members in court cases.
Educational and policy work also provide an avenue for FTCLDF to build grassroots activism to create the most favorable regulatory climate possible. In addition to advising on bill language, FTCLDF supports favorable legislation via action alerts, social media outreach, and the online petition service.
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