This morning, the Idaho Attorney General and Director of the Idaho State Liquor Division was informed that Ogden’s Own Distillery has retained my services to challenge the decision to block sales of “Five Wives Vodka” in Idaho. The businesses in Idaho were denied the right to “special order” the vodka because it was viewed as offensive to the large Mormon population in the state. The state also denied “general listing” to allow stores to sell the product. As on our other cases, I have to be circumspect on what I can say about the case in light of the pending litigation.
The letter below informs the state of the decision to seek judicial relief unless the state reverses its decision to block special orders as well as its policy to bar sales based on the need to protect religious sensibilities. The letter states in part:
Throughout this process, Ogden’s Own has tried to discuss and resolve any problems or concerns with your agency. They applied for entry into the Idaho market in good faith as they have done in other states. Idaho is the only state to raise religious and social sensibilities as a basis to deny entry to this product. To make matters worse, the agency proceeded to engage in public attacks on the company and its products. Mr. Wasserstein opted to inform third parties that the product was an insult to Mormons and later pledged that it would never be sold in the State of Idaho. He then expanded these attacks with criticism of the picture on the bottle, suggesting a bizarre misogynist hidden message. When public criticism grew over the use of religious sensibilities as a criterion for blocking the sale of a product, both Mr. Wasserstein and yourself proceeded to attack the quality of the vodka—disparaging both the product and the producers at this small distillery. Just last Friday, you were quoted attacking the product as “low class” and not “something we want to have on our shelf, sitting next to Absolut vodka.”
My clients would be the last to disagree with your praise and high regard for Absolut vodka. They have never disparaged other products. Just as the distillers in Sweden are rightfully proud of Absolut, the distillers of Ogden’s Own are equally proud of their product. While they are tiny in comparison to the Swedish company, these American distillers resent your suggestion that they should not be seen on the same shelf with Absolut. I am, frankly, astonished by the vitriol and venom directed at this small company because it had the temerity to ask to enter the Idaho market and then objected to being blocked by religious sensibilities.
There is no reason for Ogden’s Own to respond tit-for-tat to these public attacks by you and Mr. Wasserstein. Unlike your vodka of choice, your power is not absolute. We have a court system designed to protect citizens and companies from arbitrary and abusive governmental actions. It is clear from the continuing attacks from your office that nothing short of a lawsuit will compel your agency to reconsider its decision as well as its underlying policy.
I am honored to represent Ogden’s Own in what is an important case involving free speech and due process. We are committed to vindicating the rights of this small distillery and its right to market its product. This case may test the limits of the government in advancing the sectarian demands of any religious groups and the exercise of arbitrary power. Frankly, to paraphrase the Irish proverb, the exercise of arbitrary power “is sweet to drink but bitter to pay for.” I am remain hopeful that the state will reconsider its actions and allow bars and citizens in Idaho to buy to exercise their own judgment on buying this and other products.
Here is the letter sent this morning to the Idaho officials: Letter.Anderson.Five Wives