A federal judge appears to be running out of patience with Upper Leacock farmer Amos Miller, who’s been embroiled in a fight with the federal government over his failure to follow food safety laws and court orders.
Miller failed to show at a court hearing last week. On Monday, U.S. District Judge Edward G. Smith ordered Miller to appear at a Dec. 16 hearing to explain why he shouldn’t be held -- again -- in contempt of court for skipping the hearing.
Smith also made clear he won’t have anything to do with the legal strategy Miller wants to use.
Miller is asking the judge for permission to drop his current lawyer so he instead can be represented by an entity called Prairie Star National.
Prairie Star, which lists an address in Washington state, is not a law firm. Its organizers espouse “sovereign citizen” beliefs, including the legally baseless assertion that individuals, and not courts or lawmakers, can decide what laws to follow.
Smith directed the court to reject any filings made by Prairie Star in Miller’s case. He also issued a warning to the group:
“... the court admonishes its audience that the act of filing false liens against the property of a federal judge or federal law enforcement officer is a federal crime, punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment,” Smith wrote.
Sovereign citizens have tried to file such liens against judges. In January 2020, a Georgia man was sentenced to 25 years in prison for trying the ploy against federal officials.
Prairie Star sent a letter earlier this month to Miller’s attorney, Steven Lafuente, of Dallas, Texas. Formatted with a combination of capital letters, red and black ink and irregular punctuation, the letter told Lafuente he was no longer Miller’s attorney.
“For the last time… You nor your firm… Represent Amos Blank Miller, the living man, nor do you represent Miller Organic Farm… We quite frankly do not care what you or the In the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania…, do or don’t do…,” the letter stated in part.
Prairie Star also threatened to sue Lafuente or the court if either “persists in violating our client’s guarantees …”
One of the purposes of the Nov. 12 hearing was for the judge to determine whether Lafuente could withdraw. While Miller doesn’t need legal representation in federal court, corporations do, including Miller’s Organic Farm.
For now, Smith is keeping Lafuente on as Miller’s attorney. That’s something the government’s attorneys want, too, noting in court filings that Lafuente has tried to steer Miller in the right direction.
Miller didn’t respond Thursday to a phone message and email. Prairie Star responded to LNP | LancasterOnline's request for comment with a response that said it represented Miller, the human being, and not his farm. and claims Miller is not subject to the court's jurisdiction.
In June, Smith found Miller in contempt of a 2020 consent decree aimed at getting him and the farm to comply with the laws. Smith also fined Miller $250,000, but set it aside when he was given assurances that Miller was working toward compliance.
However, prosecutors said in a Nov. 9 court filing that Miller has been slaughtering and selling meat and poultry in violation of Smith’s rulings. Imposing the $250,000 fine and other sanctions will also be considered at the December hearing.