The federal judge hearing the government case to prevent Amish farmer Daniel Allgyer from shipping raw milk to members of a Maryland food club has issued his first ruling, and initial thoughts on the case.

At first read, he seems negatively inclined toward the rights of consumers to access the foods of their choice. And in seeking to keep the case focused on only the government’s contention that Allgyer violated federal law in shipping raw milk to the Maryland food club, the judge seems similarly negative. It’s not fun reading if you were hoping that at least federal judges might be sensitive to such things as rights of private groups to access the foods of their choosing.

What prompted Judge Stengel’s initial ruling and comments on the case was a motion filed by Aajonus Vonderplanitz to intervene in the case via a “cross complaint in intervention.” Essentially, Vonderplanitz filed his complaint as a way to argue the case on behalf of Allgyer who, as an Amish, is prohibited under his religious beliefs from actively engaging in legal actions. Vonderplanitz was also acting on behalf of his organization, Right to Choose Healthy Food, which had provided the membership and leasing arrangements under which the private Maryland food club operated.

The judge in his decision denied Vonderplanitz’s complaint, primarily because he isn’t a lawyer. This has been a hot button for judges in several cases involving raw milk. Judges only want to deal with others in their fraternity. 

The judge concluded: “Although an individual may represent himself pro se, ‘he is not entitled to act as an attorney for others in a federal court'” under what the judge said were well established precedent and rules.

Vonderplanitz had argued there were extenuating circumstances that made his cross complaint acceptable, but the judge wouldn’t hear of them. “Mr. Vonderplanitz maintains the individuals and associations contracted with him to represent them, have been unable to find or afford counsel, and many have had ‘negative experiences’ with attorneys. Moreover, the GrassFed Club members would like to remain anonymous because they fear government retribution. The requirement that a person can be represented only by a licensed attorney or can represent himself, however, cannot be altered because of a contract with a lay person, because of an inability to find an attorney, because of a dislike of attorneys, or because some proposed interveners would like to remain anonymous.”

The judge was equally unsympathetic to the argument that the government’s complaint for a permanent injunction barring Allgyer from shipping milk to the food club in Maryland will deprive them of essential nutrient-dense foods. “Mr. Vonderplanitz?s claims of an interest in the case are sweeping, generalized, and grandiose. He believes if the FDA prevails in this lawsuit, the people he is attempting to represent would be deprived of food from their animals and deprived of ‘nourishment, life, liberty and better health.’… This interest is not a legally cognizable interest sufficient to establish intervention…”

Bottom line: “Mr. Vonderplanitz cannot represent the other individuals and entities because he is not a licensed attorney.” Implied: Too bad if people can’t get their food.

Such initial opinions on related motions can be helpful in assessing the judge’s inclinations. In this case, Judge Stengel indicates little interest in examining such issues as whether raw milk or pasteurized milk are dangerous, labeling them “tangential.”

The judge states: “The tangential issues raised in his motion include : whether raw milk is a health risk to the public and whether raw milk has caused epidemics; whether Mr. Vonderplanitz and the entities he attempted to represent were within the jurisdiction of the United States,… whether pasteurized milk is dangerous and whether pasteurized milk has caused epidemics; whether FDA investigators committed perjury and fraud by stating the raw milk was sold even though they were aware of the contracts which provided the members owned the dairy; and whether the Government should be enjoined from ‘continuing to propagandize the myth, unscientific rhetoric, that claims and declares that raw . . . milk and dairy are dangerous to health and life . . . ‘ The main issue in this case is whether Daniel Allgyer is in violation of federal law.”

Indeed, the judge castigates Vonderplanitz because, in the judge’s view, he “seeks far more than a resolution of that legal issue. He appears to want a forum in which to air his grievances about general ‘government intrusion’ into the (largely food related) interest of ‘privately associated citizens’ (i.e., so private as to avoid the jurisdiction of the federal government and its courts). Mr. Vonderplanitz also appears to want to use this forum to market the benefits of raw milk and other nutritional options.”

The judge makes no attempt to hide his contempt and sarcasm about “privately associated citizens.”

It remains to be seen whether lawyers who argue this case on behalf of Allgyer will be able to examine whether the federal law prohibiting interstate sales of raw milk has been properly applied in this case, or might be unconstitutional, as the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund has argued in a separate case pending in Iowa.

Judge Stengel, by the way, was nominated to the court by President George Bush in 2004, and confirmed without opposition by the Senate. He should be familiar with Amish ways, since he was born and raised in Lancaster, PA.  But a quick review via a Google search indicates his decisions have always been supportive of the government side. This case looks to be a slam dunk for the FDA and Justice Department.

Reminder: The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund’s annual fundraising event is being held at Joel Salatin’s farm Saturay Sept. 10. The highlight will be a personal tour by Salatin. I’ll be speaking, together with Pete Kennedy, president of FTCLDF, and Sally Fallon, head of the Weston A. Price Foundation, among others. And there’s information on obtaining the movie “Farmageddon” or Joel Salatin’s new book, Folks, This Ain’t Normal, in honor of donations.
A number of readers have been experiencing intermittent difficulties posting comments to the site. The blog’s hosting firm tells me it’s aware of the problem, and is trying to fix it. In the meantime, the comment feature does work at times, so I’d advise anyone posting comments to copy them first, to prevent anything being lost. Sometimes it helps to switch browsers, and go from Firefox to Internet Explorer, for example. My apologies for the inconvenience. Hopefully it will be resolved shortly.