A Loganville dairy farmer’s religious beliefs do not absolve him of certain legal responsibilities, a judge ruled Monday.
Attorneys for Vernon Hershberger, who faces criminal charges involving unlicensed dairy production and food sales, argued their client’s Christianity prevented him from contesting state action related to the case.
“None of (the religious tenets cited by Hershberger) prohibit, on their face, the exercise of any secular rights,” said Sauk County Circuit Court Judge Guy Reynolds as he gave his oral ruling Monday.
In June 2010, state inspectors with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection raided Hershberger’s farm and sealed coolers of food. They ordered him to discontinue sales.
One of the charges against Hershberger alleges that he violated that hold order. State attorneys say he never exercised his rights under the law to appeal the order and have it reviewed.
But Hershberger’s attorneys have said he could not have done so, because certain religious tenants would have characterized such an appeal as an act of aggression.
State attorneys have pointed out that Hershberger already has appealed bond conditions in his criminal case. However, the dairy farmer’s attorneys say the religious tenets only apply to civil matters, such as the DATCP hold order that was issued before the criminal case began.
“This is a somewhat nuanced tenant that the defendant has the burden of identifying,” Reynolds said Monday. He ruled Hershberger and his attorneys had not provided sufficient evidence for their argument.
Further, Reynolds said, even if such tenets do exist; it does not appear that Hershberger has relied on them in the past.
He was listed as a defendant in a 2007 civil case that involved an automobile crash with a horse-drawn planter. Hershberger mounted a legal defense in that case.
He even filed a 5-page motion to have the case dismissed.
“There’s no evidence in that motion that deals with any such religious tenet,” Reynolds said. “I think this really goes to the sincerity of the religious beliefs asserted here.”
The case is scheduled for a final pre-trial conference May 7, which is to be followed by a 5-day jury trial beginning May 20.
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