Petaluma animal rights activists still don’t know when they’re going to trial

Defendants are accused of removing chickens and ducks from area farms in 2018 and 2019. They face charges of burglary and trespassing.|

A group of animal rights activists need to wait until May 30 before they know when they’re standing trial in a burglary case connected to demonstrations that took place at least four years ago at Petaluma-area poultry and duck farms.

A hearing was held Monday in Sonoma County Superior Court in Santa Rosa to schedule a jury trial for Wayne Hsiung, Cassandra King and Priya Sawhney.

The matter was pushed back so King could find an attorney to replace her previous one, Orchid Vaghti, who was only retained through their preliminary hearing.

The preliminary hearing, in which a judge determines whether there’s enough evidence for a defendant to stand trial, wrapped up in February.

Following Monday’s hearing, Hsiung said defendants are eager for the proceedings to continue.

“I’m looking forward to my day in court, because I believe people in Sonoma County want animals to be protected, not tortured,” said Hsiung, who’s representing himself.

A spokesman for the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the status of the case.

The defendants are accused of taking chickens and ducks from the local farms without the permission of the owners of those farms, while the activists contend they believed the animals were being mistreated.

They have been charged with several counts of second-degree burglary, conspiracy, theft, trespassing and unlawful assembly.

The charges stem from the defendants’ alleged actions during demonstrations at two sites: Sunrise Farms, northwest of Petaluma on Liberty Road, on May 29, 2018; and Reichardt Duck Farm, west of Petaluma, on June 3, 2019.

Similar charges were initially filed for a demonstration that took place Sept. 29, 2018, at McCoy’s Poultry Services on Jewett Road.

Court records show those charges were dismissed during a different preliminary hearing, which began in November 2021.

Proceedings have been spread out over five years due to routine court schedulings and delays, compounded by outside factors.

For example, records show initial proceedings in spring 2020 were hampered during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And on Nov. 14, 2022, a different preliminary hearing was again delayed after Vaghti tested positive for COVID-19, officials said in court that day.

A fourth defendant, Rachel Ziegler, was also arrested during the demonstrations and is accused of similar charges as the other defendants. They were filed separately but the cases are expected to be consolidated.

“I want the most efficient thing for the courts,” Sonoma County Deputy District Attorney Robert Waner said during Monday’s hearing.

You can reach Staff Writer Colin Atagi at On Twitter @colin_atagi

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