Our inalienable rights are routinely sacrificed on the altar of a criminal justice system, which in the name of some imaginary almighty government, forgets too often that We the People - including the accused - are, in fact, its employer.
Recently, here in Southern California, the Ventura County District Attorney’s office has succumbed to this particular version of selective amnesia, in a relentless assault on food rights (among others) and its apparently unlawful prosecution of Santa Paula farmer Sharon Palmer of Healthy Family Farms and raw ‘milkman’ James Stewart of Rawesome, a private food club in Los Angeles.
And so, at this critical hour, it becomes our civic and patriotic duty to remind our government of its responsibility to the People.
SUMMARY OF EVENTS:
Details of apparently ongoing prosecutorial misconduct in the case against Palmer and Stewart emerge as far back as 2008. That’s when the Ventura County District Attorney’s office, led by Senior Deputy District Attorney Chris Harman, filed a complaint instigating a raid of the farm, in December of that year. The event - which was based on the premise that Healthy Family Farms was not properly licensed at the time, when in fact it was - annihilated Palmer’s cheese business, her primary source of income at the time. Since then, Palmer has struggled to rebuild revenues from the farm’s other resources, including eggs, chickens and other livestock.
But the raids and harassment of the farm by government agents persisted, making it impossible for Palmer to fully recover. Every year for the last four years, she has endured either raids or personal arrest: December 2008 (raided and arrested), January 2009 (raided), June 2010 (raided and arrested), August 2011 (raided and arrested) and, most recently, March 2012 (arrested during an appearance in open court), when Palmer was charged with an ostentatious 39 felony counts of fraud and conspiracy and held on an initial bail of $2 million. Palmer’s attorney rightly called this “grandstanding” by the prosecution.
The charges, relating largely to Palmer’s having not repaid farm investors on time, come four years after the Ventura County District Attorney’s office launched the very chain of events which crippled Palmer’s ability to earn revenue. But what business model could withstand such apparently relentless government-funded harassment? DA prosecutors now on the case, again led by Harman, would have us believe that the frequent, continual raids on the farm - beginning very soon after Palmer first collected the initial investment funds in 2008 - should have no impact on Palmer’s bottom line... Really??
But the Ventura County DA’s office refuses to acknowledge the role it has itself played in Palmer’s delayed ability to repay. And delayed is all it ever was. No evidence has been presented by the prosecution to indicate Palmer ever had any intent not to repay, and in fact Palmer’s periodic correspondence with investors, notifying them of the circumstances, would indicate she had every intention of making good on her promise to repay. Understanding as much themselves, not a single investor has ever filed a civil lawsuit against Palmer; neither has any investor pursued any other means of collecting on funds owed - alternatives made available per their promissory notes. And if the so-called “defrauded investors” had no problem themselves with Palmer, then why should the DA’s office?
The Ventura County DA’s office, then, would seem to stand alone in its perception of any criminal activity afoot in this case. Furthermore, the DA’s prosecutorial team appears, so far, to have recklessly neglected to disclose to the courts the following facts, that a) they knew well before filing felony charges that Palmer planned to repay farm investors with funds obtained from a legal settlement she had already won, and b) they were notified months ago, back in March 2012, when Palmer had, in fact, repaid the investors with interest as agreed, as soon as possible after those funds were released from a bond held by the courts.
What all this means is that the Ventura County DA’s office continues to push forward with this apparently unethical prosecution, in spite of its direct knowledge both of Palmer’s intent to settle up with her investors, and of her actually having repaid them.
The prosecution also lumps James Stewart in with 37 of the 39 charges against Palmer, despite the fact there is no clear evidence tying Stewart to the case. In fact, every witness called during the three-day preliminary hearing expressed quite clearly either that they understood Stewart had nothing at all to do with financial transactions related to the farm, or that they had never even heard of him.
These truths now brought to light reveal the unacceptable behavior of the Ventura County District Attorney’s office. They illuminate an apparently dangerous and disturbing pattern of abuse toward the powers and duties entrusted by the People to representatives of government office. Withholding evidence alone is prosecutorial misconduct, and government agents found to be in violation of such essential ground rules must be held accountable for their offenses and injuries to our civil liberties and in this case, to those of Palmer and Stewart, particularly.
As such, all charges in this case must necessarily be dropped, and Stewart freed, immediately.
BULLET POINTS OF APPARENT MISCONDUCT, IN DETAIL:
1. The Ventura County District Attorney’s office is itself apparently culpable in Palmer’s difficulties in repaying farm investors on time. Multiple raids authorized against Healthy Family Farms by this government agency resulted in significant destruction of property and in disruption of daily activities necessary to maintain business income - including, but not limited to, the annihilation of the farm’s cheese business, which had been its primary source of income. The raids were conducted on the premise that Palmer was not properly licensed at the time, when in fact she was.
2. When Palmer and her attorney Matt Bromund met with D.A. investigators on July 1, 2011, they gave those investigators the case number for the lawsuit whose funds she planned to use to repay investors. This means the D.A.’s team knew full well the source of funds for repayment was already in place.
3. Palmer had originally won the above-mentioned lawsuit back in December 2010, but the settlement funds were tied up in escrow during a lengthy appeals process. That appeals process ended in March 2012. When the funds were finally released to her a few weeks later, Palmer repaid farm investors in full, with interest, as agreed. The DA’s team was made aware of this fact by Palmer’s own attorney in March 2012, and so far has apparently ignored and withheld this information from the courts.
4. During the preliminary hearing in March 2012, evidence and witness testimony presented by the prosecution indicated that Palmer’s negotiations with investors included alternative remedies investors might seek, in the event they were not repaid on time. These remedies included interest penalties, ownership options on the farm itself, and even civil litigation. But Palmer kept all the investors informed as to her financial setbacks, and - to this day - not one single investor has pursued any of these alternative paths. Still, the Ventura County DA’s office saw fit to slap Palmer with criminal charges, all in the name of “the People”.
5. James Stewart remains in jail, having been apparently wrongfully and unlawfully lumped into this long list of felony charges, despite a gaping lack of solid evidence tying him to the case. During the preliminary hearing in March 2012, the DA prosecutorial team presented the court with a flyer (author and origin unidentified) containing Stewart’s name and contact number, as well as an email from an organization known as Sustainable Communities (author and origin unidentified) in a poor attempt to conjure a “conspiracy” where there is none. When the authors and origins of both the flyer and email remain to be identified, it is clear the prosecution is grasping at straws in this case. To be sure, the DA team’s own hearsay and circumstantial evidence, including testimony, as presented, indicates either that Stewart took no part whatsoever in the financial/business transactions of the farm or that he was totally unknown by the witnesses.
6. Perhaps even more troubling is the fact that both the DA’s team, and the two judges hearing elements of this case, so far appear to have ignored these major points of testimony and evidence, whose only conclusion would be to release Stewart from custody immediately.
7. Charges and conduct as seemingly frivolous and unprofessional as these by the Ventura County DA’s office effectively limit our rights to choose the foods we consume. They, in the company of varying and similarly apparently frivolous charges brought against real-food farmers and local food producers across the country, threaten to systematically destroy our access to fresh food alternatives. If these farms and food clubs are forced out of business, all that remains will be the conventional, mass-produced, chemical-laden and genetically modified “foods” peddled by big agricultural companies - products now understood by many to promote illness and disease.
8. In the case of Palmer and Stewart, many members in the community who rely on alternative healthy foods to maintain or remedy their various health conditions now no longer have access to it, their “medicine”. Insofar as good health promotes life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the Ventura County DA’s office has, by positioning themselves in this way between a community and its health, launched an all-out attack on our fundamental civil rights.
We, the undersigned, therefore, demand an immediate end to the apparently unlawful and egregiously unethical prosecution of farmer Sharon Palmer and ‘milkman’ James Stewart, as well as the immediate release of Stewart from custody. No longer shall we tolerate any such apparent prosecutorial misconduct, especially as it seeks to part us from our fundamental freedoms and food rights.
WE THE PEOPLE
TO MAKE YOUR DEMANDS DIRECTLY (and civilly, please), CONTACT:
Chris Harman, Ventura County Senior Deputy District Attorney: 805-662-1710
Gregory Totten, District Attorney, Ventura County: 805-654-2500
Kathy Long, Ventura County Board of Supervisors, 3rd District: 805-654-2276
Kamala Harris, Attorney General, State of California: 916-322-3360
Jerry Brown, Governor, State of California: 916-445-2841
Facts of this case are available to the public and on record with Ventura County. Please also see links to additional resources below for more information on this case in particular, and on the fight for food rights in general.
Farmageddon Documentary Film:
Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund:
The Complete Patient:
The Girl’s Gone Raw: