As the prosecution in the Rawesome Three raw milk/private buying club case dribbles out its evidence, even the experienced criminal lawyers defending the three are astounded about what is being revealed.
Discovery documents presented in advance of a hearing Thursday to the lawyer for Rawesome manager James Stewart–among 2,000 pages of evidence made available to the lawyer–revealed that the Los Angeles County District Attorney “employed at least three paid informants to join Rawesome…They were to join and become part of the community and report back on what was happening.” In some cases, they carried cameras and recorders. These paid informants were apart from at least half a dozen undercover investigators who were previously reported in the criminal complaint made public in August to have joined Rawesome to make purchases of raw milk, according to Ajna Sharma-Wilson, the lawyer representing Stewart.
In addition, the investigators mounted secret “pole cameras” within the tiny food club in Venice, CA, to film members in the club picking up food, Sharma-Wilson reported.
“They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on informants and undercover agents,” said Sharma-Wilson. “They’ve spent millions on the whole case.” She said she’s been told to expect another 40,000 pages of evidence as part of the discovery process; on Thursday, the lawyers were presented with a CD disk containing 1,096 documents.
At least some of the 70 or so Rawesome members who attended Thursday’s hearing in downtown Los Angeles theorized, when prosecutor Kelly Sakir and the three defense lawyers went off for a 45-minute conference outside the courtroom during the afternoon court session, that possibly the prosecution wanted to discuss a quick settlement of the case to get out from under the growing public attention. The thinking was that the authorities’real intention was to harass Rawesome out of existence, and once that goal was accomplished, charges would be dropped or significantly reduced, and the authorities would move on.
Nothing of the sort. The lawyer-to-lawyer conference was mostly about Sakir’s concern that Stewart hadn’t yet turned in his passport as required under his bail arrangements in August, and setting up a timetable for a pretrial hearing, likely early next year.
Sakir made clear to the defense lawyers, according to Sharma-Wilson that, “This is like a cancer to them…She doesn’t want raw milk, she wants blood.” According to Sharma-Wilson, the prosecutor also made clear her unhappiness about the presence of 70 or so Rawesome supporters in the courtroom. “To her and her world, we are outlaws,” she said.
Freddy Sayegh, the lawyer representing defendant Victoria Bloch, and a veteran of defending notoriously violent defendants, said that he has never seen such an intense prosecution effort as the one taking shape against the Rawesome Three.
The defense lawyers are relishing their roles in a likely Rawesome Three trial next year, in large measure because they feel very confident of their ability to mount a successful defense. Sayegh said he had difficulty imagining a jury of their peers convicting the three.
Thursday’sactual court hearing was mostly about confirming which lawyers were representing which defendants, and setting a December 1 date for the next court appearance of the three defendants, at which time, a date will be set for a pre-trial hearing. At that point, a judge will decide whether the case should go forward. In addition, the prosecution can add charges to the 13 already filed, for illegal sale of raw milk, operating Rawesome without permits, and illegal food labeling, among others.
The judge hearing the case Thursday, Upinder Kalra, noted that “the court has received a significant amount of letters from the public.” He said that while supporters “are welcome to attend” the proceedings…it is inappropriate to communicate with the courts.” The defense lawyers said afterwards that the judge was simply adhering to judicial tradition in remaining non-biased, and in effect encouraging supporters to communicate with their legislators and other officials in a position to adjust laws and regulations.
The hearing Thursday was brief, but the events around it couldn’t have relayed a clearer message about how serious a threat private food arrangements, especially those involving raw dairy, have become to the regulatory establishment. It is clearly willing to resort to tactics normally reserved for catching spies, terrorists, and drug dealers, in going after ordinary Americans committed only to preserving their food choices.
By the way, I can’t wait to see the action recorded on those pole cameras.
A group of moms from around the country, who feed their children raw milk, plan to hold a demonstration at the Maryland headquarters of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration November 1. They will be protesting the FDA’s crackdown on raw milk production and distribution, arguing that “the government campaign not only criminalizes raw milk, but criminalizes the American citizens who buy and consume it.”
Prior to their peaceful demonstration, a caravan of mothers will cross state lines with raw milk and invite the FDA to witness their “crime.” More info to come.