BARABOO, Wis. - A Sauk County farmer accused of selling food and dairy products, including raw milk, without a license appeared in court on Friday while his supporters rallied nearby against the prospect of him facing jail time.
Vernon Hershberger said he came to court prepared to go to jail because of a bond violation as he faces several misdemeanor counts, but Judge Guy Reynolds declined to revoke his bond.
Prosecutors had sent a letter to the judge saying that they believe Hershberger had violated terms of his pretrial release by continuing to sell raw milk and other products on his farm, based on a recent state Department of Agriculture visit.
During Friday's proceedings, Hershberger represented himself. He said that he didn't violate any terms and doesn't sell raw milk. He said he simply cares for animals and procures their food for members of a private club.
"I have no jurisdiction about what happens. The food belongs to the other people, and I do not have jurisdiction to tell them what happens with that food. (I) just wanted you to know," Hershberger said.
He said he's prepared to go to jail, and that the Department of Agriculture visits trespassed on his privacy.
"We don't sell milk. I want to get that clear. We don't sell milk. All we have is a big pantry on the farm, where the owners can come in and get their milk," he said.
Reynolds said that he wasn't going to take any action on Hershberger's bond. He said that the state must file a formal motion before he could.
"The court isn't going to respond to letters. The court takes action on properly served and filed motions," he said. "And that's true for both sides to this controversy."
However, the judge did have a message for Hershberger.
"I admonish you, Mr. Hershberger, that you are to follow my bond conditions," he said. "And, I expect you will. And if you don't, you can be separately prosecuted for that."
Attorneys with the state Department of Justice, who are prosecuting the case, declined to say why they didn't file a formal motion with the judge to revoke Hershberger's bond.
Meanwhile, Hershberger's supporters rallied on the steps of the Sauk County courthouse before the farmer's Friday afternoon appearance. Some said that they'd be willing to go to jail in defense of their freedom to drink raw milk. The protesters signed a "Declaration of Food Independence," and said that they're prepared to fight.
Canadian farmer Michael Schmidt said that they're mustering support.
"Who is willing to go to jail for your food rights? Hands go up, friends. We all count on you," he said.
The judge tentatively scheduled a trial on the four misdemeanor charges for Sept. 25.
Prosecutors still have to file responses to Hershberger's claim that a judge has no constitutional authority to hear the case.
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