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State may jail Hershberger

June 6, 2013 | 0 comments

The drama is not over in the case of a farmer who was taken to court for unpasteurized milk and other food items from his farm.

Less than a week after a jury acquitted so-called "raw milk" farmer Vernon Hershberger on three criminal charges, prosecutors have asked the Sauk County judge to revoke his bail and put the farmer in jail.

Hershberger's case centered on four criminal misdemeanor charges for violating state food and dairy regulations. In the early hours of June 1, a jury of seven men and seven women in Baraboo found the farmer not guilty on three counts.

The five-day trial brought statewide and national attention.

On the remaining count - violating a hold order that was placed on food in his farm's "pantry" by state regulators - he was found guilty.

Both Hershberger and his wife Erma had testified during the trial that they had taken food out of the refrigerator to use after the hold order was placed because they don't like to waste food.

Eric Defort and Phillip Ferris, attorneys for the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ), who prosecuted the case, have since moved to have the judge revoke the terms of the bond and jail Hershberger.

At the beginning of this case against the organic farmer, Judge Guy Reynolds had released Hershberger on a $500 bond with the bond containing certain conditions he was not to violate.

This week court authorities were to have a conference to determine when Hershberger will be sentenced on the one guilty count. At that time prosecutors were reportedly going to ask for a revocation of Hershberger's bail. They had already filed a motion to that effect.

They had filed a motion May 31 - which was the last day of the trial - for revocation of bail. That came shortly after a Madison newspaper published an online article on Hershberger.

Prosecutors, in their motion, cited the article, saying it "reflects that Hershberger admits that he violated the bail conditions 'all along.'"

Mainly, the condition of his bail was that Hershberger was not to sell food without a retail food establishment license.

The conditions of his bail also did not allow him to manufacture or process dairy products without a dairy plant license or to sell or distribute milk produced on his farm without a milk producer license.

Those are all counts that the jury found him not guilty on, but according to the online article cited by prosecutors, the farmer continued to operate his farm as usual during the court proceedings.

Hershberger had let his milk producer license lapse, he testified during the trial, because he didn't feel he needed one if he wasn't going to ship milk into commercial channels.

He testified that all the milk produced by his cows was needed for the group of buyer-members that were part of his cow-leasing program at his Grazin' Acres LLC operation near Loganville.

Department of Justice (DOJ) lawyers prosecuted the case because the local District Attorney declined to prosecute Hershberger.

Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) inspectors investigated the case for DOJ and DATCP legal staff assisted during the trial.

The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, which has been helping Hershberger with his defense in the case, said it was disappointed in the new effort to jail the farmer.

"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," said one of Hershberger's attorneys Elizabeth Rich.

"The verdict offered an opportunity to open dialogue and a badly needed mending of the damaged relationship between the Department and family farms," she said. "It is unfortunate that the government has instead chosen to pursue more of the same - expensive, heavy-handed enforcement that further erodes the trust of the community."

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