Judge reverses ruling, denies animal shelter standing
December 3, 2012
A Nevada County Superior Court judge has reversed his earlier ruling granting legal standing to Sammie's Friends animal shelter in an animal cruelty case.
The shelter's attorney, Jill Telfer, had filed a motion in the case in order to block the return of any animals to the Big Oak Valley property owner after he was convicted on two misdemeanor counts. Also at issue is the amount of restitution due Sammie's Friends for the care of the seized animals.
Nevada County Animal Control had removed more than a dozen animals from Louis Silva's Patino Road property, west of Penn Valley, in March 2011 after a report of a dead llama. Officers said they found a number of animals in poor condition with no food or water; one llama was euthanized the following day.
Silva was tried on three felony counts and two misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty. Jurors found Silva guilty of the two misdemeanors but were split on the felony charges.
In June, Silva's attorney, Stephen Munkelt, and Nevada County Deputy District Attorney Oliver Pong reached a agreement that any animals not named in the charges would be returned to Silva, and the court issued an order to that effect.
But Telfer's motion objected to the proposed order, alleging that the group has spent nearly $4,000 to care for them and that Silva had not provided any funds for the animals' care. In another motion filed July 19, Telfer wrote that "if death is not a consequence of Silva's neglect, his neglect in all likelihood will result with unnecessary and unjustifiable physical pain and suffering. Many of these animals ultimately may need to be returned to Sammie's Friends."
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Since that time, a series of legal maneuvers has kept the case in limbo.
Munkelt filed an objection and in July, visiting Judge R.M. Smith ruled the nonprofit group had the legal authority to be a party in the case. But Munkelt filed an appeal, and the appellate court indicated it would likely require Smith to reverse his decision.
After hearing Telfer's arguments in court earlier this month, that is exactly what Smith did in a ruling issued Tuesday.
Smith also set Silva's sentencing for Dec. 20, but Munkelt said he likely would ask for that to be postponed to January.
The court still needs to deal with an appropriate sentence on the misdemeanors, and the disposition of the animals, whether any come back to Silva or not, Munkelt said.
Because anyone convicted of animal cruelty is prohibited from owning animals for a period of five years, the court would have to grant relief from that prohibition, he explained, adding that Silva would have to show he is not a danger to animals.
The court also has to determine the amount of restitution for the seizure and care of animals, Munkelt said.
Telfer said she was not surprised by the reversal, saying, "I don't think criminal law has caught up with animal neglect cases. This was a unique situation."
Telfer added that she considered it a win that she was able to argue the issue and provide evidence against Silva.
"The evidence shows animal neglect by Silva, which amounts to cruelty," she said. "Now the (district attorney) just needs to argue that evidence; it's now in the record … I believe the animals have won."
To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email email@example.com or call (530) 477-4229.
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