For Schmidt, Schlangen, Hershberger, It’s Pick Your Legal Poison Time, and We're Not Talking About Raw Milk
When you follow the tedium of the legal justice system, you begin to understand why some defendants, even though they are innocent, decide to cop pleas rather than follow the process through to completion. It can be a maddening process that is often difficult for the non-jurist to make sense of, and it doesn’t necessarily matter what country you are in.
Three cases involving food rights activists are cases in point:
*In Canada, raw milk dairy farmer Michael Schmidt was in court Thursday, placed in the awkward position of seeking an Ontario judge’s permission to travel next week to British Columbia so he could stand trial on separate contempt-of-court charges. You see, Schmidt is barred from traveling because he is facing conspiracy charges in Ontario in connection with his supposed involvement in the disappearance of a herd of Shropshire sheep last year in Ontario. The sheep were targeted by public health authorities for slaughter because they were thought to be diseased. As part of Schmidt’s bail terms, he’s had his passport confiscated, and he’s not permitted even to leave Ontario without permission. Hence, his court appearance so he could be granted the privilege of going on trial in another province—the British Columbia charges grow out of his takeover of a herdshare, so that members there would continue to receive their raw milk. Canada’s national health system, Health Canada, had approved use of raw milk as a cosmetic, yet British Columbia public health authorities refused to recognize the designation, and insisted on prosecuting Schmidt, along with an associate. Gordon Watson. It’s generally understood in Canada that Schmidt is in “lockdown” as a way to muffle his powerful voice on behalf of food rights during travels around North America. Schmidt has expressed his views of the motives of the Canadian bureaucrats pressing to punish him, in this article on The Bovine blog.
*In Minnesota, farmer Alvin Schlangen had appealed to a judge in his home Stearns County to drop three of six misdemeanor charges, arguing they were nearly identical to charges he had been acquitted of last September in Hennepin County, mostly involving raw milk distribution. The follow-on charges constituted “serial prosecution,” argued Schlangen’s lawyer, Nathan Hansen. Nothing doing, said the judge, in an opinion issued Thursday. “The crimes charged in Stearns County are separate and apart from any crimes that were charged in Hennepin County. Although the offenses are similar in type, they are not the same crimes and do not constitute a single behavioral incident. A defendant charged, and either convicted or acquitted of a sale crime, cannot thereby immunize himself against being prosecuted for all future sale crimes on different dates in different locations.” It looks as if Schlangen will indeed face a second trial with a second jury…and a very aggressive prosecutor.
*In Wisconsin, raw milk farmer Vernon Hershberger has filed a brief arguing that his religious beliefs prevented him from challenging the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) when his farm store was raided and shuttered in 2010. The state has argued that his failure to challenge the shutdown, which was premised partly on the supposed dangers of raw milk, now prevent him from calling a witness at his trial to testify about the benefits of raw milk. Hershberger in an affidavit accompanying the brief, explained why his religious beliefs prevented him from taking legal action against the state:
"Scripture contains the following admonition in Matthew 5:38-41: '… And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.' The Bible teaches that we should not be aggressors in court actions by suing people or filing counter claims (“cross bills”, below), even though it is possible by course of law to force off the coat from a man's back. We are not to marvel at the matter, but, in such a case, rather than go to the law by way of revenge, rather than exhibit a cross bill, or stand out to the utmost, in defense of that which is our undoubted right; rather we are to let him even take our cloak also. If the matter be small, which we may lose without a considerable damage to our families, it is good to submit to it for the sake of peace. It will not cost us so much to buy another cloak, as it will cost us by course of law to recover that; and therefore unless we canst get it again by fair means, it is better to let him take it.
“Thus, Scripture requires me to avoid initiating conflict. I cannot be the aggressor in a lawsuit. I could not request the hearing provided by the administrative rules and referenced on the State’s holding order even though the findings of fact in the order were incorrect, because it would have been tantamount to suing the State and would have violated this Scriptural prohibition on initiating conflict. “
It’s definitely a different take on the American way of handling legalities than most of our increasingly litigious society is inclined towards. It makes a lot of sense, but the judges hearing these food rights cases seem long on legalities, and short on sense. Remember, what this is all about is whether Hershberger can call a particular witness. Who knows what other technicalities the state will raise in an ongoing effort to delay the actual trial, currently scheduled for May.
If nothing else, these legal maneuverings are great opportunities for all concerned to practice patience, and learn more about the intricacies of our legal systems. Our legal systems represent opportunities to delay and intimidate by the authorities, but they also represent opportunities to educate people about the issues at hand. Michael Schmidt, Alvin Schlangen, and Vernon Hershberger are performing huge services by standing in for all of us to force the authorities to explain themselves, and allow the public to evaluate the substance of their arguments.