Courts Go Hog Wild in Michigan
By Sara Burrows
Heritage hog farmer Mark Baker sued the State of Michigan when its Department of Natural Resources arbitrarily ordered him to kill his pigs in late 2011.
After two years of stalling, the state now has moved his trial from his home county to the state capital, where a panel of four appellate judges – hand-selected by the state – will hear his case.
The Department of Natural Resources declared Baker’s pasture-raised pigs to be an invasive species of wild boar essentially because they were raised outdoors rather than in a confinement animal feeding operation.
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The agency ordered him to destroy the animals, but he refused and sued for relief. The state has played every trick in the book to delay his legal challenge, while piling nearly a million dollars in fines on him.
Now, thanks to a controversial bill that was fast-tracked through the Michigan legislature and quietly signed into law by the governor last week, the DNR has another card to play.
Senate Bill 652 redirects almost all legal challenges against the state to a special panel of four state Court of Appeals judges selected by the state Supreme Court chief justice.
So, instead of his locally elected judge and a jury of his peers, Baker will have to plead his case to one of four men selected by the most powerful man in the state’s judicial system.
And if he doesn’t like the decision, guess whom he gets to appeal to… the same court.
Additionally, by issuing a “stay” order, DNR officials are now able to delay the trial another six months, which Baker believes is part of the state’s strategy to bleed him dry financially, as he’s been ordered not to sell his pork in the meantime.
So why is the state stalling and doing all it can to deprive Baker of a trial by jury?
“Because our case is solid,” Baker said in a recent interview with Food Riot Radio.
The regulation Baker is challenging lists nine vague characteristics the Department of Natural Resources uses to determine whether a pig is an “invasive species of wild boar.” The defining characteristics include straight tails and curly tails, erect ears and floppy ears, solid black coloring, red and white coloring, and solid red coloring.
The order is written so broadly that the Department can basically declare any pig that is not raised “under roof … on concrete” illegal, he said.
“If we get them into a court of law and they have to explain ‘other characteristics not currently known and straight tails and curly tails and things like that’ – they’re going to lose and they know it,” Baker said.
Baker believes the state moved his trial to Lansing “because they have sympathetic judges down there, that they probably have on the payroll and things like that.”
“I know the judge here in my county – we’ve gotten to watch him over time,” Baker said. “We’ve gotten to see the expressions on his face when the Attorney General comes up with dumb proposals. He’s one of our neighbors. He lives amongst us, so he can be held accountable to make just decisions. But up in Lansing, it’s not about justice. It’s about who’s paying whom.”
“If the attorney general is hell-bent on taking it to Lansing, I’ve got to believe they’ve got a good reason to do that. Not only do they know they’re going to lose up here in a local court – they probably know they can absolutely win with their own judges down there at the state capital.”
Baker asks everyone who values real food to repeatedly call the state attorney general’s office, (517) 373-1110, and the governor’s office, (517) 373-3400, to demand a fair trial.
“They’re getting sick and tired of people calling up and asking them questions about this.”
“If I go down – if my farm goes down – there’s nobody standing behind me,” Baker warned. “This is it. This is the last game. We don’t have to lose, but we all have to pitch in, and we all have to do something – because if we don’t, we will lose. And all you budding farmers will be done, and all you guys who like to eat good food – it will dry up.”