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First NAIS Conviction: Polk County Judge Orders Beef Rancher to Register Premises

BALSAM LAKE - A Polk County judge has found a cattle rancher guilty in the state's second case of a farmer refusing to register a livestock premises.

Cumberland cattle rancher Patrick Monchilovich, 39, faced trial Oct. 21 in Balsam Lake for not registering his premises as required by the state's livestock premises registration law. He's the first farmer to be convicted in Wisconsin for not registering a livestock premises.

It took Judge Molly GaleWyrick less than a half-hour to decide that the state of Wisconsin had met its burden of proof in the case, and she granted the motion for a directed verdict.

Assistant District Attorney Moria Ludvigson told the judge the state was requesting Monchilovich's compliance plus a civil forfeiture fee.

GaleWyrick ordered Monchilovich to pay $389.50 within 60 days.

About 25 farmers and others showed up in the courtroom to support Monchilovich and his wife, Melissa.

A few people snickered when GaleWyrick told Monchilovich, "You can do whatever you want to; this is a free country."

After admonishing the crowd, she said Monchilovich's disobedience of the law meant he would have to pay a penalty.

"They're taking away freedoms," Monchilovich told The Country Today after the hearing was adjourned.

He said he will consult with his wife before deciding whether to appeal the decision.

Monchilovich refused to register his farm, and he received multiple visits from state officials in 2008.

District Attorney Dan Steffen filed a complaint against Monchilovich on Feb. 25. Monchilovich entered a not guilty plea in March, arguing that the costs incurred by farmers far outweigh the rewards of premises ID and the National Animal Identification System.

He said he keeps his Simmental herd on property that's separate from his McKinley area home. He said he owns the land, having inherited it after his mother's death.

Monchilovich argued in court that he doesn't have an official "premises," so he shouldn't be required to comply with the law.

"The only way you can get a premises is to apply for one," he said. "We don't have one so, therefore, we're not required to register one."

GaleWyrick argued that a person can't avoid regulations simply by not doing something.

She said that by admitting that he owns the property, has livestock there and has not registered his premises, Monchilovich has admitted his violation of the statute.

She said her court isn't the proper venue in which to argue against administrative code.

"(The state has) proven the elements of a violation of the statute, so I don't believe you have any defense to that," she told Monchilovich.

She said that Monchilovich incorrectly interpreted the language of the law and manipulated it to his own advantage.

"You don't get to pick and choose. You have to look at it in its totality," she said. "You're doing what first-year law students do. You pull out a part of the statute that you want to apply and take it out of context."

GaleWyrick said Monchilovich presented no reason that would exempt him from having to register.

"This applies to you," she said. "There's absolutely no logic I can think of that would exempt a single person."

Melissa Monchilovich said she fears that compliance with the premises registration law will lead to more problems.

"They're looking for compliance so that down the line, they can make more rules and do things that we object to," she said.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection in 2003 became the first agricultural agency in the U.S. to implement mandatory livestock premises registration.

Anyone who keeps livestock must register that location with the state.

The program is designed to protect animal health and food-chain security by facilitating a more rapid response to animal disease outbreaks.

Each premises is assigned a registration number. There is no fee to register a premises, and registration must be renewed every three years.

The Monchilovich case is the second time DATCP has taken action against a farmer for refusing to register their premises.

Amish dairy farmer Emanuel Miller Jr. of Loyal appeared in a Clark County courtroom Sept. 23 regarding his refusal to register his premises. He opposes the program because it violates his religious beliefs.

A decision in the Miller case is expected later this year.