Wisconsin Don’ See No Stinkin’ Double Jeopardy

vernon herschbergerThis is the Monday Line
By Denis G. Campbell

Imagine as local dairy farmer Vernon Herschberger, you peacefully minded your own business, leased the raw milk and whey products your cows produced, sold them to the members of your local community via a private buying club and that buying club was the main source of food for members who purchased products for their family without incident for years.

Fast forward and a “small government, pro-business” Republican Party administration takes over and exercises near complete control of everything in the capital of Madison. They though are a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Despite a strong farming tradition in that state, they have an agenda that completely supports Big Ag and Food’s attempts to control all food distribution.

THAT state government decided local farm products are a threat. They trumped up charges that support corporate food providers, the ones who can afford to hire teams of lawyers and lobbyists to pursue legal and legislative action.

vernon-hershberger-1The small farmer, Verno Herschberger, is charged with a serious crime under laws created to stifle and eliminate anyone from competing with Big Food. This farmer was forced to spend huge amounts of money and an entire year defending himself in court for selling that raw milk. His customers were forced to go without products for their families.

He went to court and won a horribly and stupidly argued case presented by the government.

So one would think, Game Over, right?

Not so fast there young man. The government rarely loses and when they do so… well, beware! In a fit of pique these sore losers asked the court to rescind Farmer Vernon’s bail and to throw him in jail on the remaining charge because he continued to provide food to his customers without a licence, one they would never give him because he sells raw milk products direct to the consumer (gasp!).

The double irony is because the Governor’s hand-appointed judge decided to ban any and all discussion of this central issue in the case, the sale of raw milk, it instead was argued on a very narrow point, made so very badly, the jury threw it out.

raw milk 2The question legal experts across the state and around the country ask is: how, if the jury threw out the three major commerce-related law violations thus shattering the foundation for the remaining charge (violating a ‘holding’ order), how can the government demand revoking Vernon’s bail on a point rendered moot?

Isn’t that action not just petty, vindictive and, at the end of the day, stupid?

But alas the government says that even though you won, and the single remaining point resulting in a guilty verdict against you is because the Judge’s jury instructions were so narrow and banned discussion of the term ‘raw milk,’ the jury had no choice but to find Farmer Vernon guilty despite being acquitted on the other charges?

And… that single remaining charge could see him sent to jail for up to one year and face fines of more than $10K? So much for double jeopardy.

You are right to assume, someone in the government is either goring his ax on Farmer Vernon’s hide or is making a very large and foolish statement, or, perhaps, both. In any case, the entire incident is vindictive and costs this local farmer even more money to defend himself. And therein lies the rub.

This type of overreach is precisely what the justice system is supposed to guarantee its citizens against, but this case is failing horribly. While there will likely be a hearing this week and sentencing sometime before the end of June, legal experts say it would make the most logical sense to throw out the remaining conviction. The government is hanging on to a single procedural point that was shredded by acquittal on the major charges and many legal experts think this is a manoeuver to plant seeds of tougher sentencing in the judge’s mind.

But this is Governor Walker’s Wisconsin, a state where his recall was narrowly averted and his state legislature has gone after unions, teachers and everything standing in the way of his privatising state departments and functions.

A single dairy farmer is seemingly no match for him and his legions of contributors all with much deeper pockets. The Wisconsin way used to celebrate labour unions and farmers, indeed the modern labour movement was founded in that state. The state used to have 30,000 dairy farmers, now it has 12,000. More and more of the US food supply is coming under control of big factory farms and they set milk prices like commodities such as oil and gas forcing 2/3 of farmers out of business or to sell out to big conglomerates.

Across the EU, local farmers have popular shops selling fresh, locally sourced foods. Talk to farmers here and they shake their heads in disbelief that Wisconsin farmers are unable to sell their food when, where and to whom they choose.

It’s a brutally simple proposition, eliminate locally sourced competition and people will have but one choice, to purchase their food from their big conglomerate factories.

And then farmers like Wisconsin’s Vernon Herschberger will be either jailed or forced into bankruptcy for giving the consumer the choice they want?

That’s not the America I grew up in.

Denis G Campbell View more

Denis G Campbell
Denis G. Campbell is founder and editor of UK Progressive magazine and co-host of The Three Muckrakers podcast. He is the author of 7 books and provides Americas, EU and Middle Eastern commentary to the BBC, itv, Al Jazeera English, CNN, CRI, MSNBC and others. He is CEO of Monknash Media and a principal with B2E Consulting in London. You can follow him on Twitter @UKProgressive and on Facebook.

Leave a Comment