Harold Martin, the Michigan assistant attorney general, making believe he's not listening to Mark Baker's lawyer, during arguments last Wednesday before Judge William Fagerman. (Photo by Randy Buchler)I have found myself thinking a lot about last week’s courtroom antics of Harold Martin, the Michigan assistant attorney general, which have been viewed more than 1,000 times already on YouTube.  While it’s tempting to simply label Martin as unprofessional and less than competent, I think there was much more to it than that. I explore some of the less obvious messages in an Open Letter to Martin. 


To Harold Martin
Assistant Attorney General, Michigan


There has been a fair amount of discussion on Facebook and on my blog as to whether your courtroom outbursts in advance of the judge’s appearance last Wednesday were spontaneous or planned, and whether your antics might cause you to lose your job. I’ve been one of those who has suggested your Clint Eastwood imitation was planned, though I do allow for the fact it couldn’t have been completely scripted, since you couldn’t have known your outburst toward hog farmer Mark Baker and then toward the crowd would be video recorded. I’m not sure it matters—what’s important is your intent and the mindset you displayed in a public setting….a mindset that pervades the MI AG’s office and the DNR. 


Here are three messages that came through loud and clear: 


-This has become a grudge match. The fact that you, the defendant lawyer, directly approached Baker, the plaintiff, to scold him for posting messages criticizing Michigan officials, clearly reflected the depth of state resentment and upset by your agency and the MI Department of Natural Resources, which you were representing. You must know that it is borderline unethical for the defense lawyer to approach the plaintiff without the plaintiff lawyer’s knowledge and permission. In the courtroom last Wednesday, you ignored Baker’s lawyer and directly challenged him about YouTube videos he has broadcast about the case over the last two years. You wanted to know why he broadcast his complaints about the DNR, why he had the gall to question your tactics that have effectively put him out of business and nearly put his family out on the streets. When Baker told you that you could have responded publicly, your response was gruff and threatening: “You don’t get it, do you?” (You don’t get it, that we have absolute power over you–that is what you meant, right?)


My guess is you expected two years ago, when this whole matter came up about the state’s order banning all pigs it considered “wild” or “feral”  that Baker would roll over like most Michigan farmers and simply obey the order. Baker surprised you by not caving.  In suing the state, Baker did something you can’t forgive him for: he kept the issue alive, defying your desire to satisfy your corporate sponsors and dispense with it. 

When Judge William Fagerman last year ruled in favor of Baker’s suit, seeking a trial to clarify the DNR’s Invasive Species Order, (with the trial scheduled to begin next week) you, the MI AG and the DNR, suffered a huge defeat by being ordered to appear in a public court and explain the genetic purification orders represented by the ISO. There was no way you were going to try to present a losing case in an open court, and so you very reluctantly did the next worst thing—you gave Baker a victory, but reserved your options to go after other farmers as you see fit. But, of course, you hold a special grudge now against Baker, and as such feel it is important to humiliate him as a way of sending a message to other farmers who might gain inspiration from him. 


-You have split loyalties. Last Wednesday in court, you refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. Now, I sympathize with you on that one. Like most Americans going through public school, I recited the Pledge pretty much every day at the start of school. I could never understand why I had to say it every single day,  and I still can’t, any more than I can understand why I have to stand for the Star Spangled Banner before every Major League baseball game I attend. But I recognize these rituals for what they are—small rituals that are part of our culture, and I resist the temptation to remain sitting and make a major issue out of something that is pretty minor in the general scheme of things. But you, a government employee on duty,  couldn’t resist the temptation to refuse on the Pledge. Why? For a very simple reason: You can’t entirely pledge allegiance to the U.S. and its flag when you also have an allegiance to the large corporate pork producers that call the shots for the DNR and the AG….much like food corporations call the shots in any number of other areas, like genetically-modified seeds and food, feeding antibiotics on a routine basis to farm animals,  and raw milk. 


In the courtroom, when a spectator asked why you wouldn’t stand for the Pledge, you turned around and asked, “Are you questioning my patriotism?”  “Yes,” the person responded. You made a feeble, condescending effort effort to engage the audience, but your intent was to let them know who was really in charge. 


-Remember who controls the legal system. Not only did you refuse to stand for the Pledge, and borderline violate legal ethics by semi-threatening Mark Baker, you were disrespectful to the crowd of people in the courtroom. At the end of the actual session, where you caved and publicly sanctioned Baker raising pigs in violation of the ISO, so as to convince the judge to dismiss Baker’s suit, you were disdainful of the court itself, as you mocked Baker: “What do you think of your court now?” 

While you were pissed at Baker for getting judicial approval to operate in contravention of the ISO, you know how tough you can make it for him to get that judicial approval to stick. You were cleverly slippery and noncommittal in an exchange with the judge. You said at one point, “The makeup of the herd is one-seventh Russian boar. I don’t know if that is on the record. I am not saying we won’t apply the ISO. I am saying the ISO doesn’t apply” in this situation. So….any change to Baker’s herd, and watch out for the DNR, right, to enforce its genetic purification model? 

You regarded everyone in that courtroom–Baker, his supporters, on up to the judge–with utter contempt, as if they were fools to think they might get satisfaction from an American court of law. In that respect, your disdain of the Pledge of Allegiance makes sense, since its final lines proclaim your country “….indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Liberty and justice have nothing to do with what you do as a lawyer employed by the state.  


So, no, I don’t think you’ll be in any trouble with your least so long as that video doesn’t go viral and create a cascade of citizen complaints to the Michigan Attorney General’s office. If anything, you’ve probably gotten some kudos back at the office for standing up to the kooks and weirdos in that court, and for “putting Mark Baker in his place.” Even if Baker gave it to you.  


Moreover, you knew well that the DNR is committed to continuing its campaign against Baker and other hog farmers, as a DNR official suggested to a local paper after the judge dismissed the case. 


“DNR Public Information Officer Ed Golder said this is exactly the outcome the department wanted.

“ ‘Our understanding is he does not have prohibited pigs, so there is no longer need to pursue this in court,’ Golder said. ‘We’re very pleased with the ruling. The state’s natural resources will be protected against harmful invasive species.’

“Golder said if it came to light that Baker still possessed invasive pigs, the department would continue to enforce the order regardless of Wednesday’s decision.”

To which Baker said in a new YouTube statement, that he understood the longer term ramifications of the state’s actions and the judge’s decision: “We think they (the DNR) is protecting something. They do not want to go in a court of law with this….These guys have an agenda they are following. After all we have gone through, we are back to square one.” 

I know, Harold Martin, that you are likely chuckling at Baker’s sudden realization that his days of tangling with the AG and DNR aren’t over. Just know that Mark Baker is one tough guy, and the people behind him are increasingly savvy about what you and your henchmen at DNR and the pork industry are up to. You may have more of a fight on your hands than you realize.

I hope Baker takes Gary Cox’s suggestion, and seeks compensation from the state for upending his business and family over the last two years. I also hope he continues to resist state efforts to possibly intimidate him. As Lynn said in a comment following my previous post, about meeting Baker some time back: “I knew here was a man who would not cower, nor concede, to the injustice of the MI Invasive Species Order. I kept thinking how unfair his situation: after serving his country for 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, now creating a life for himself and support his family by farming, this?” 

I hope you, Mr. Ass’t AG, heard the people in the courtroom last week when they told you in no uncertain terms to turn away, and not mess with them.