Years in the making, the trial of three animal rights activists accused of trespassing and conspiracy for entering poultry farms and freeing chickens and ducks slated for slaughter got underway on September 8th.
There’s not even a jury yet - that comes the week of the 11th - but that didn’t stop dozens of activists with animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere - shorthanded as DXE - from descending on and picketing the courthouse in Santa Rosa as the long awaited trial of animal rights activists Wayne Hsiung and Priya Sawhney - founders and now former members of DXE -- finally got underway.
"Rescuing animals is not a crime!" DXE protestors chanted outside the Sonoma County Superior Court.
Largely procedural, the first day wasn't without intrigue. Cassie King, a third defendant charged for her role in taking chickens and ducks from poultry processors in Petaluma on separate occasions from 2018 and 2019, had her case dismissed by the District Attorney.
An absolved King addressed the court, saying “I don’t believe I’ve done anything wrong by trying to help suffering animals."
Sonoma County resident and fellow activist Samantha Faye expressed similar sentiment outside the courtroom.
"We just haven't been able to get the animals voices out in the courtroom after five years," Faye said. "And so we're really, really ready to, you know, instead of talking about scheduling and all of these things, we wanna start talking about the animals."
Despite large numbers, animal rights activists weren’t the only voices in the courtroom.
Sonoma County Farm Bureau Director Dayna Ghiradelli said the agricultural community views the case in a much different light.
"We're hopeful that justice is served, um, at the end of the day, regardless of what anybody's beliefs are and, and opinions and emotions, trespassing and theft is illegal and it's a, you know, it's wrongdoing," Ghiradelli said. "So hopefully that that is proven in court."
If there's one point both side agree on, it's the potential for wide ranging precedent to emerge from the trial, which Samantha Faye said is the second of its kind.
"I personally think that having a right to rescue case heard by a jury in Sonoma County is really going to span the divide between what we consider to be this sort of like conservative agricultural sect in California and the, the progressive consumer sect in California," Faye said. "So when we finally are able to talk about the animals in the courtroom, and hopefully when we get a not guilty verdict, we're going to have both sides of California working together to literally instate the rights of animals to be rescued from factory farms."
Besides the dismissal of charges against King, the first day of the trial revolved mostly around subpoenas filed by Wayne Hsiung, a defendant, who is also an attorney, and representing himself in the case.
Hsiung had hoped to enter documents from Whole Foods, Costco, and the American Humane Association relating to their business and association with the poultry facilities in Petaluma. Hsiung’s requests were ultimately quashed.
The trial resumes on the morning of Wednesday, September 13th at 10:30 in Courtroom 10 at the Hall of Justice in Santa Rosa.