Jail time mulled for dairy discharge
Judge postpones sentencing because of case's complexity
By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
A judge has postponed sentencing for Mike Vierstra, a Twin Falls, Idaho, dairyman convicted of violating the Clean Water Act for discharging wastewater into a nearby canal without a permit.
U.S. District Judge Ronald E. Bush of Boise has moved sentencing to Aug. 3.
The case is so complex, the judge said he wanted more time to study the issues involved, said Allen Ellis, Vierstra's attorney.
The two-hour hearing on July 19 included testimony by Vierstra and a dairy inspector from Idaho State Department of Ag, Ellis said.
In its sentencing memorandum, the government requested a sentence of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine for the violation, which occurred on or about June 1, 2009.
Ellis said the recommendation is "unbelievable," especially since his client already paid a $21,000 fine in a 2010 settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency.
"It was one event of discharge into the Low Line Canal with no adverse impact on ecology or wildlife," Ellis said. "My client testified if he is incarcerated, his dairy will go into the soup; there's no one but him" to run the dairy.
U.S. Attorney George Breitsameter said the jail time is justified by law because Vierstra didn't have a permit to discharge, he has a history of regulatory offenses, and he lied in trial testimony, obstructing the proceeding.
But the judge could adjust the sentencing based on the nature and quality of the discharge, he added.
Ellis argued the impact of the discharge was not measurable and there is no evidence that Vierstra obstructed justice, according to court documents.
The inspector from the ag department testified with one version of the incident, and Vierstra testified with a different version. The jury decided to believe the inspector's version, Ellis said.
Ellis also pointed out Vierstra had been acquitted on two other counts of discharge in the same case by a jury in March and has no criminal history.
"The judge indicated he may or may not impose incarceration, but that my client should be prepared," Ellis said.
The judge also indicated he might consider some kind of house detention, he added.