In a highly unusual move, federal Judge Edward Smith on Wednesday put on hold a $250,000 fine of Pennsylvania Amish farmer Amos Miller “until further order of the court.” Smith’s dramatic action came shortly after a phone hearing requested by Miller’s lawyers to follow up on filings they had made arguing that Miller had come into compliance with the main federal court orders regarding the slaughter and sale of meat by Miller’s farm to its many hundreds of food club members. The hold came just a few days after the potentially crippling fine came due, though Miller reported that he has already paid more than $13,000 of USDA expenses added on to the fine.
Judge Smith had in court hearings over the last five-plus years that this case has been going on pushed both Amos Miller and USDA regulators to come to an accommodation that would allow the farm to continue providing food to its many hundreds of members around the country, while also putting Miller into compliance with USDA regulations regarding the slaughter and inspection of the meat it sold. In more than 20 years of operations, there has never been a complaint by a member or an allegation of illness from Miller’s meat. “I have no desire to put this farm out of business,” Judge Smith declared on more than one occasion.
Since the $250,000 fine was officially levied by Judge Smith in mid-July, there has been an outpouring of support for Miller. Two GoFundMe campaigns for Miller have raised $133,000 of the $250,000 fine; one campaign launched by Miller has raised more than $78,000 from nearly 700 donors and a second campaign launched by Nikki Adamkova, a manager of one of Miller’s food clubs in Florida, has raised more than $55,000 from nearly 650 donors.
In addition, Miller says his business has surged with orders from existing members,. He’s also been inundated with many dozens of new members since the fine became public and the GoFundMe campaigns were launched.
What role the avalanche of public support played in pushing the judge to reverse himself on the fine will never be known for sure, but Amos Miller is convinced that Judge Smith took note of it. “He’s been between a rock and a hard place,” Miller told me today. “He knows how important this food is to people. He doesn’t want to be the person putting them into possible starvation. He knows the customers are watching him like a hawk.”
Miller said he’s not certain what he will do with the funds raised on his behalf in the event the fine reversal becomes permanent, but he says at least some of the money will likely go to paying the substantial legal fees he has been racking up defending himself against the USDA’s lengthy and sustained attack on his farm.
Miller isn’t entirely out of the woods. Judge Smith has scheduled a followup hearing for September 27 to determine where Miller stands in working with the USDA.
For now, though, Miller has scored a huge victory in convincing a federal judge to reverse an order for a huge fine.