On Monday afternoon a federal judge in Georgia sentenced former peanut company executive Stewart Parnell to a virtual life sentence for crimes related to knowingly shipping salmonella-tainted peanut butter that killed nine and sickened 714 across 47 states.
The 61-year-old former head of Peanut Corporation of America was sentenced to 28 years behind bars, apparently the first time a food executive has been convicted and sentenced in a foodborne illness case.
Michael Parnell, age 56, who brokered peanut paste from his brother’s company to Kellogg’s, was sentenced to a 20-year prison term. Mary Wilkerson, age 41, who served as a former quality control manager, received 5 years.
Both of the Parnells were remanded into custody with the judge denying defense arguments that they remain free pending appeal.
Could a blogging plaintiff’s lawyer have played a role in the incarceration of the Parnells and Wilkerson? It’s possible.
Food safety lawyer Bill Marler began covering this outbreak the minute it happened. On his blog, Marler Blog, Marler served as a source of news and information, not only for the public, but for the media and even government investigators.
Marler, a longtime champion of food safety, began blogging on food safety matters almost a decade ago. In addition to his own blog, his firm, Marler Clark, publishes Food Poison Journal. Marler, with a team of journalists, publishes the leading food safety publication in the country, Food Safety News.
Marler has become nothing short of a force of nature when it comes to food safety. The minute there’s an outbreak, he’s there with his network to share information, gather information as a hub, warn the public, help the media, serve and support government agencies, and advocate action.
There’s little question that his efforts as a publisher and food safety lawyer have made for a safer food supply for us all—with those efforts profiled earlier this year in The New Yorker.
Did Marler motivate federal prosectors to bring criminal action here? Perhaps not directly, but the groundswell Marler created among victims and the media, armed with information he shared, had to have an impact.
U.S. Attorneys had never criminally prosecuted wrongdoers in a foodborne illness case. It was Marler who helped disseminate word of emails and records confirming that food found by lab tests to contain salmonella was shipped to customers. Marler also spread word of a leaky roof, rodents and roaches, all causes for breeding salmonella.
Marler also provided coverage of civil actions, some of which his firm handled, and congressional hearings investigating the Parnells and their company.
A galvanized community of victims and their family members combined with the media, in many cases better informed because of Marler’s coverage, had to motivate prosecutors.
The result? Corporate executives will think twice before knowingly putting dangerous products into the marketplace.
As Marler shared with the media and on Twitter this evening:
I think the fact that he was prosecuted at all is a victory for consumers. This sentence is going to send a stiff, cold wind through Board Rooms across the U.S.
It could be said Marler had a premonition on the Parnell brothers being the first food executives to go to jail, as back in 2009 he told ABC News “If this doesn’t rise to a criminal level I don’t know what does.”
Marler does a lot more than blog. He’s a heck of a lawyer championing the cause of victims and fighting defendants to the Nth degree.
If his blogging did have an impact on the incarceration of the Parnell’s, his work as a lawyer on this case and food safety, in general, also played a role.