Last February, a Wisconsin judge imposed a temporary injunction prohibiting Arlin Bender from slaughtering cattle and pigs on behalf of neighboring farmers, at the request of the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). In July, the judge followed up by extending the injunction for a year.
At a hearing on Monday, the judge will hear arguments that his orders have been a serious violation of Wisconsin law.
In both court actions, DATCP said Bender was operating without a license, and without the proper facilities and a state judge, Jon Counsell, agreed. In October, I wrote about Bender’s ordeal trying unsuccessfully to defend himself in several court appearances, where he maintained he was operating on a private basis for individual farmers, at their request and on their property.
The temporary injunction and followup restraining order gave DATCP the authority to inspect Bender’s property whenever it wanted. In mid-November, DATCP said it wanted to come over. It turned out to be a particularly bad time for Bender, who is a Mennonite, and many of his Mennonite neighbors. The two-year-old child of a neighbor had drowned, and relatives and friends were pouring in for the funeral. Bender was putting many of them up at his home, and understandably didn’t want state inspectors prowling around.
Bender told a DATCP official about the situation, and requested a delay in the inspection. Nothing doing, replied the DATCP people. So a friend of Bender’s got in touch with the local sheriff, and explained the situation. The sheriff called DATCP and warned the agency that no sheriffs would be available to accompany a DATCP inspector, and besides, DATCP people weren’t welcome to do an inspection on that day.
DATCP backed off in the face of such official local opposition, and delayed its inspection until earlier this past week. Nearly simultaneous with the inspection, DATCP filed a motion in state court seeking a permanent injunction. In other words, the agency was pushing to shut down forever the 58-year-old butcher, who has been plying his trade for 40 years.
What’s the rush? And does DATCP even have the backing of the law for such a drastic action? Those are some of the questions Bender is asking. Or rather, the questions his lawyer, Elizabeth Rich of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, is asking. See, Bender now has legal representation for the first time.
Rich has written a brief arguing that DATCP has gone way beyond its authority in demanding that Bender obtain a license to slaughter animals, and that the two orders issued against Bender, along with the permanent injunction being sought, are illegal. She says Wisconsin law exempts certain mobile processing activities of the sort Bender is involved with.
Even more important, she says, Wisconsin law doesn’t limit Bender to slaughtering animals for only his personal use. “If Mr. Bender receives hides as barter for mobile processing, he has not violated the law. If Mr. Bender slaughters an animal on the premises of a person who owns the animals to be slaughtered, and the resulting product is for the exclusive use of the owners, members of the owner’s household, and his or her nonpaying guests, then he has not violated the law. If Mr. Bender processes animals to be used for himself, members of his household and his nonpaying guests and employees, he has not violated the law. Yet any of the foregoing activities could arguably violate the terms of the Temporary Injunction and the proposed Permanent Injunction.”
Rich has argued that Bender deserves a trial to make his case. In the meantime, “There is no urgency, or rational basis, for denying Mr. Bender in court while permanently depriving him of his livelihood. Based on the foregoing analysis,, we would recommend modification of the Temporary Injunction to ensure that it does not impose obligations upon Mr. Bender that exceed applicable legal requirements.”
Bender is encouraging supporters to attend his hearing Monday, at 1:15 p.m. It is at the Clark County Courthouse, 517 Court Street, Room 301 in Neillsville, Wisconsin (phone 715-743-5150). There are 50-75 seats in the courthouse, and Bender would like to see the place packed.