The Amish salve maker, Sam Girod, was sentenced last week to six years in federal prison for illegally selling skin salves that are readily available all over the Internet from other makers. He was also hit with three years of probation and a requirement that he repay his “victims” about $14,000.
Now, I guess the fact that Girod got only about one-eighth of the potential maximum sentence he could have received might be viewed as good news. But that’s not the way most of his supporters have taken it, in reactions posted here and on Facebook. They are upset that he received significant prison time, and they have good reason to be upset: He has no criminal record, and no documentation of harm to any individual was provided.
I find the whole thing upsetting as well, but for a different reason. Sure, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration behaved like a big bully in going after Girod, but that isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last time the FDA abused its power. Beyond that given, I think Girod screwed up big time, and in the process not only got himself unnecessarily jailed, but gave the FDA a good deal more authority than it might otherwise have had over makers of healing products.
You can begin to understand the ways in which Girod screwed up by reading the insightful account provided by Kentucky activist Sally O’Boyle (better known as Sally Oh). O’Boyle has been a loyal supporter of Girod, helping publicize his unfortunate case, and generating lots of awareness.
While there were lots of things wrong with the case, beginning with the unnecessary charges against Girod and continuing through to the sentencing, the heart of the problem was summed up by the judge, as quoted by O’Boyle: “(The judge) said that Sam refused to listen to anyone but himself… and others who have been giving him advice – bad advice. The case is not about Big Pharma. He then called Sam ‘obstinate’ and accused him of ‘continuous and blatant disregard for the rule of law.’ “
“Of course, the law he was referring to is actually some rules that were written by unelected bureaucrats at the FDA that are enforced as if they were laws enacted by our elected legislators.”
I think Sally’s first paragraph is exactly correct. Her second, though, misses a key point, in my judgment. I understand the judge to be admonishing Girod for failing to exercise his rights as provided by the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution). The key right is that of “due process”—the administration of justice—promised in the Fifth Amendment (as well as the Fourteenth Amendment).
When Girod fired his lawyer well before his trial, and then tried to defend himself before a jury, he screwed up royally. The judge had many times encouraged Girod to hire a lawyer, but Girod was “obstinate.” He preferred to go with the tactics of the “sovereign citizen” advisers O’Boyle refers to. That advice was on clear display at Girod’s sentencing hearing last week, when he several times responded to the judge’s requests and questions by saying, “I do not consent.” That sovereign citizen nonsense likely increased Sam’s sentence, and cost him a chance to serve his sentence at a low-security facility in Kentucky near his family.
But even before the sentencing craziness, Girod lost his chance to possibly have beaten the rap entirely when he refused to engage a skilled lawyer for his trial. The trial turned into a farce. As one example, O’Boyle points to witnesses friendly to Girod who were forced to testify for the prosecution. She states: “Any competent cross examination would have allowed these witnesses to testify on Sam’s behalf, as they obviously wanted to do. It was clear that these people considered Sam to be their friend and they couldn’t believe the federal government was forcing them to testify against Sam.”
I’m sorry, but you can’t expect the government to be your friend when it decides to put you on trial. It’s up to you to provide your own defense, as articulated by the Constitution—by using your right to a trial by jury and due process. If you care about yourself and your family, you get the best defense money can buy. In Girod’s case, he could have gone to the foodie community and raised tens of thousands of dollars to pay for his defense. It wouldn’t have cost him anything.
And if he had won, which was a distinct possibility given the flimsiness of the government’s case, then the FDA would have been set on its heels. It would have thought long and hard before going after another producer of natural healing products.
All you have to do is look at the case of Wisconsin raw dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger three years ago. Hershberger was inclined to go the “sovereign citizen” route, until just before his jury trial, when he finally decided to take the advice offered by many supporters, to get real legal help. With assistance from the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, he engaged a top trial lawyer, and beat the pants off the Wisconsin regulators. They have since steered clear of going after farmers like Hershberger.
I feel badly for Girod. But I don’t feel much sympathy. Yes, he got a bad deal, but it could have turned out much differently if he had simply taken advantage of all the opportunities conferred by our Constitution. Now, he can spend his days telling his prison guards for the next six years, “I do not consent.”