After six days of deliberation, a Sonoma County jury handed down a guilty verdict in the case against Wayne Hsiung, an animal advocate and co-founder of Direct Action Everywhere, the animal rights group otherwise known as DxE that organized an open rescue of 70 chickens and ducks from farms in Petaluma, California. For the last 8 weeks in the Northern California courthouse, witnesses have been called and questioned, jurors have carefully listened and a judge has presided over a seemingly simple question: should people have the right to rescue animals in distress from factory farms? Though the trial started with three defendants — Wayne Hsiung, Cassandra King and Priya Sawhney — King was dismissed on day one and Sawhney accepted a plea deal, leaving only Hsiung, who has now been found guilty.
Hsiung, who chose to represent himself, was convicted of one count of felony conspiracy to commit trespass and two misdemeanor trespass charges, for entering the poultry supplier Sunrise Farms, while the jury was unable to come to a decision on the other charge of felony conspiracy to trespass for entering Reinhardt Duck Farm. Immediately following the verdict, Hsiung was taken into custody where he’ll stay until his sentencing on November 30th.
“The Judge Wants to Keep the Trial Hidden From the Public”
Early on in the trial Judge Passaglia, who has been endorsed by the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, placed a gag order on the defendants, preventing them from talking to the media, a decision condemned by the ACLU.
On top of the gag order, Passaglia consistently barred the defendants from introducing what could have been damning evidence — specifically the name and symptoms of a deadly disease spreading on the duck farm, and much of their footage capturing conditions where animals are housed.
Passaglia did allow testimony from Michael Weber, co-owner of Sunrise Farms, that “there were no sick and injured animals on the ranch in any of the buildings” on the day the activists entered. He further claimed, under oath, that the chickens on his farm lived “stress-free” lives. When challenged during cross examination however, he admitted that the birds would in fact routinely cannibalize each other.
According to the trial’s social media account on X, formerly Twitter, further restrictions were placed on animal rights organization DxE’s courtroom sketch artist, who until September 25th was unable to document what was happening in the courtroom and then was only able to sketch Hsiung. “The judge wants to keep this trial hidden from the public,” reads a post on the account.
Plans for Appeal and Future Litigation
Thus far, the trial has seemingly served its purpose: spotlighting poultry farm conditions and drawing broad public attention to the issue. In a blog post for The Simple Heart, the organization Hsiung most recently co-founded, he thanked all involved in the case — including the farm owners — for bringing the matter to trial. “I have believed for the last 20 years that it is crucial for us to discuss the issues we discussed in a court of law,” wrote Hsiung. Having the opportunity to do that is something for which he has “immense gratitude.”
This is not the first time Hsiung has had a central role in an open rescue case. Earlier this year, he served as the legal defense for another DxE activist who had taken chickens from a transport truck in Merced County, California. She ended up being acquitted. The previous year, Hsiung himself was acquitted for removing piglets from a farm in Utah.
According to a statement released by DxE, Hsiung plans to appeal the decision on the grounds of “prejudicial and reversible error” on the part of Judge Passaglia. And his end goal remains to provide “a stronger legal foundation for the defense of animals in future cases.”
Grace is an avid writer and advocate with a passion for exploring animal rights from a social justice lens. She brings almost a decade of varied experience within the animal rights movement to her work as staff writer at Sentient Media.