James Stewart and Sharon Palmer spent a fifth night in a Ventura County jail. The two, who are associated with the Rawesome Food Club–Stewart as its owner-manager and Palmer as a provider of milk (via a herdshare since discontinued) and chickens and eggs–are hoping to be released tomorrow (Thursday) during a hearing at which they will request a lowering of their bail.

Stewart is being held on $1 million bail and Palmer on $2 million bail. The Ventura County District Attorney has argued that the two are flight risks. Palmer back in 1998 fled to Mexico when a mortgage company she worked with came under investigation She detailed her version of what occurred in a comment on this blog in early 2009.

A third individual associated with Rawesome, real estate developer Larry Otting, was also hit with a $1 million bail; he apparently couldn’t be found to be arrested last Friday, and turned himself in yesterday at the courthouse, where he posted bail and left the courthouse.

All three pleaded not guilty yesterday to assorted charges–including grand theft, securities fraud, embezzlement, mortgage fraud, and money laundering–in connection with the purchase by Palmer of Healthy Family Farms in Ventura County in 2008. In addition, Palmer was charged with evasion of state income taxes.

The three have been charged in connection with Sharon Palmer’s acquisition of the property for nearly $2 million. Otting used his credit to obtain a mortgage of $1.1 million, and allegedly signed documents saying that the remainder of the purchase price wouldn’t come from borrowed funds. But Palmer did borrow several hundred thousand dollars of funds from about half a dozen individuals, indicating they would be repaid from a government loan she had applied for. According to Palmer’s lawyer, at least some of the individuals who loaned her money were sympathetic to her problems when the California Department of Food and Agriculture came after her in connection with providing goats milk to a herdshare organized by Rawesome, and were content to give her more time to re-pay the loans; others apparently haven’t been so forgiving.

Palmer’s lawyer, Matthew Bromund, accused the Ventura District Attorney’s office of “grandstanding” via the high bail. He said that not only has she appeared at every hearing in connection with the Rawesome case in Los Angeles, but also at all hearings in connection with misdemeanor charges brought against her in connection with the the original CDFA actions against her in 2008 and 2009 on whether she had valid pasteurization and milk plant licenses. Her current detention is “a complete travesty,” Bromund stated.

From what I understand, none of the latest charges have anything to do with a sore point among some Rawesome members–allegations that Palmer sometimes provided outsourced eggs and chickens to the club rather than what she produced at Healthy Family Farms.

James Stewart and Sharon Palmer, shown together at a fund-raising event for their court case in Los Angeles, last fall. At the bail hearing Thursday, lawyers for Stewart and Palmer are expected to point out that neither has shown any inclination to leave town since charges were filed last August by the Los Angeles District Attorney in connection with allegedly illegal raw milk sales at Rawesome. Each has appeared at any number of hearings that have been scheduled over the last seven months.

Friends of Stewart are collecting written character references for him, to present to the court on Thursday, which can be sent to friendsofrawesome@gmail.com. For Sharon Palmer, letters can be sent to her lawyer, Matthew Bromund <mbromund@bromundlaw.com>.


There was one piece of unfinished business from the Vernon Hershberger hearing Friday–something I hesitated to write about originally. But when I told a few friends about it, they said they thought it was highly germane to the whole event–a kind of a reality test as to what the keepers of the courts, and the prosecutors and judges who help employ them, really think of us food rights folks.

The reason I was in the hall outside the courtroom and ran into Andrew Hershberger (as described in my previous post) was because I was on my way to the bathroom. No big deal, except in the Sauk County Courthouse on Friday, it was a big deal.

See, when I originally entered the courtroom, near the front of a long line of individuals who had been at the rally, and took a seat, I went in as one of the crowd, one of those attending the rally. After I got inside, I realized I needed to use the bathroom, and went outside the courtroom to ask a court officer where it was located, and what I might need to do to get back into the courtoom (like go through the security metal detector again).

“You can’t get back in,” the court officer told me.

“What do you mean?” I asked. “I need to use the bathroom. I’m glad to go through security again.”

“If you go to the bathroom, you’ll have to go to the back of the line,” he said, pointing to the bottom of the stairs a floor below us.  

That meant I probably wouldn’t get back into the courtroom, and maybe not into the overflow room, either.

“That doesn’t sound right,” I protested. “People shouldn’t be prohibited from using the bathroom. That’s just plain human decency.”

“Sorry, those are the rules.”

I asked another court officer, and was told the same thing. Can’t use the bathroom. “I don’t make the rules,” she said. No, clearly, the rules came from on high.

Other people had the same problem–after all, we had all driven in from somewhere and then been out in the cold for a couple hours. Everyone got the same answer, and reluctantly returned to their courtroom seats.

So we all unhappily and uncomfortably gritted our teeth, and awaited the start of the session, hoping it wouldn’t last too long. At that point, I noticed there was a media section to the courtroom, where a few reporters were sitting. I decided to try to sit there, so someone else could have my courtroom seat. I showed my press credentials, and changed seats.

I asked the reporter sitting next to me, Joe Orso, if he thought I might be able to get a bathroom break. He had the same problem, so we both headed out, to inquire with the court officers . The first fellow who had denied me, knew all about me as I emerged.  “You didn’t tell me you were media,” he said, enthusiastically, with a big smile. “Sure, head on down. You can just come back through security.”

The message couldn’t have been clearer. The court officials didn’t like the pro-Hershberger crowd, and were going to make sure to make the dislike as clear as possible. Shutting off bathroom rights is about as demeaning and dehumanizing as it gets. Even ordinary prisoners get that.  

Why would they do that? Maybe they don’t like Hershberger standing up for his rights. Whatever, there was a meanness of spirit that told me a lot about the hostility many in positions of authority feel about the audacity of some of us to object vocally about the trampling of our food rights.

By the way, there have been a steady stream of nice articles and posts about last Friday’s rally and court hearing. One by Kim Hartke, and another by Bekah Wilce of PR Watch. And there’s the incisive text of a talk by Kelly West, a member of Hershberger’s food club.

With the previous Wisconsin courthouse experience fresh in my mind, I looked over a new study that came out last week, “Motivation for Unpasteurized Milk Consumption in Michigan, 2011”. By large margins, those surveyed feel raw milk is healthier than pasteurized milk and should be legal to sell…and they don’t trust public health officials.

Yawn. They needed a formal “scientific” study to learn that? At one point, the study’s authors state: “Respondents were evidently very dedicated to drinking raw milk, since a majority drank raw milk exclusively and travel a great distance (mean of 24 miles) to obtain raw milk. The proposed health benefits of raw milk consumption were a major reason for their loyalty to the product. Unfortunately, there is little scientific evidence to support the beliefs regarding raw milk’s health benefits.”

Yes, these poor delusional raw milk drinkers. Maybe put them in a zoo for the next phase of the study, so their brains and anatomy can be studied for defects and genetic problems. But definitely don’t investigate the possible nutritional and health benefits of raw dairy products.