MI Judge Ruling: Mark Baker Can Raise His “Feral” Pigs, But What About Everyone Else?
The state of Michigan angrily gave in to farmer Mark Baker, telling a state judge that the farmer can continue to raise his hybrid pigs clearly forbidden by the state’s contentious Invasive Species Order. What's unclear is how the state's move affects other farmers.
The state made its move in a desperate effort to avoid a trial, scheduled to begin March 11, that was based on a suit brought by Baker to force clarification of the ISO and its broad prohibition of pretty much all pigs that aren’t raised by corporate producers.
In a Lake City courtroom packed with 100 Baker supporters, Judge William Fagerman reluctantly dismissed the suit brought by Baker after a Michigan assistant attorney general, Harold Martin, assured the judge that the state was fine with the Russian hybrids being raised by Baker. “I could see the pain in the judge’s face,” Baker recounted shortly afterwards. Fagerman, after all, is the judge who had several months ago rejected the state’s effort to dismiss Baker’s suit and ruled that Baker did have enough of an argument about the vagueness of the ISO and concerns about the DNR's authority, to warrant a trial.
But because the state wasn’t seeking any longer to bar Baker from raising his pigs, and wasn’t seeking to impose the $700,000 fine it levied last year, Baker technically had no case. “The ruling was correct….Any pig with a straight or curly tail is a problem, except on my farm,” Baker said.
On his web site, Baker put it this way: “Despite the fact….that our pigs are Russian Boar hybrids (clearly prohibited in the ISO) is OK with the DNR and our pigs are legal. This is a complete turnaround from everything they’ve stated to date and left our jaws on the table. However, the net result was it gave the judge little choice but to state that there was no longer a conflict. The practical questions were still on the table, but the legal status was changed with (the state lawyer's) statement. There was no more disagreement about whether or not the Invasive Species Order applied to us—we both agreed that it should not apply. The judge chose to ignore the Declaratory Ruling, which almost perfectly describes our pigs.
“This turnabout on the part of the DNR was an an admission of ‘uncle.’ Their regulation is so incredibly subjective that they could just wave a magic want and make our pigs ‘legal’ and so avoid explaining themselves under oath. They were desperate not to have to make their case. This eleventh hour move shows their cowardice and their bully nature.”
In a video, Baker described a bizarre courtroom scene just preceding the judge’s ruling in which the state’s lawyer, Martin, showed his anger about the case by first refusing to shake hands with Baker, and then refusing to stand with everyone else for the Pledge of Allegiance. When an elderly spectator called Martin out, according to Baker, “Harry Martin snarled at this man, ‘Are you questioning my patriotism? You have a problem with me?’ “ There followed further harsh words over Martin’s failure to attend a hearing last week, ostensibly because of a snow storm. (A YouTube video catches some of the courtroom exchange.)
After the hearing and the judge’s dismissal of the case, a suddenly-pleased Martin walked past Baker and his lawyer and, sounding something like a Mafia Don, remarked, according to Baker, “What do you think of your court now?”
Baker says he was astounded by the entire scene made by the state’s lawyer. “How do you tell your children we have a good system?” he asked. “I have never seen a man bring discredit down on his organization the way this man did.”
What are the practical implications of yesterday’s court ruling? According to Baker,’s web site “We can take our pigs to a USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) butcher without fear of refusal due to the ISO. We can sell our weaned pigs this spring and they can’t go after our customers.”
However, “We still don’t have clarification on what a ‘feral pig’ or ‘old world swine’ is. We still don’t know if we are a domestic hog producer per the DNR’s legally binding subjective opinion.”
Moreover, “We get no compensation of any sort for the last two-and-a-half years worth of lost business and livelihood,” though he indicated he may file suit against the state seeking financial restitution.
But despite the Michigan lawyer’s arrogance toward Baker, the state of Michigan clearly has wounds that require licking. It has, under highly public legal pressure, sanctioned one farmer departing from its genetic pig prohibitions. The effect isn’t unlike the Vernon Hershberger trial last May, where a jury acquitted the dairy farmer of violating the state’s dairy and retail licensing laws with his raw milk and other foods. While the decision technically only affected Hershberger, it publicly set a precedent that the state has, thus far, felt bound to respect statewide.
In Baker's case, the ramifications could be national. Other states contemplating similar orders to restrict raising of "feral" or wild hogs, could hesitate based on the legal events in Michigan. These regulators hate the glare of publicity, of having ordinary people know about their maneuverings against small farms and, most important, having the audacity to speak up and question them.