Saturday, May 25, 2013
AUGUSTA -- A hearing to determine the fate of 15 horses and a handful of other animals must continue, a judge ruled Thursday.
In her ruling, Justice Michaela Murphy denied a plea from defendants to halt the proceedings and return the animals to Alexis and Brett Ingraham. The animals were seized June 3, 2010, from Fair Play Farm, which the Ingrahams operated in Clinton.
David Van Dyke, the attorney for the Ingrahams and several other defendants in the case, argued that the state waited 147 days too long to seek permanent custody of the animals.
After the seizure, prosecutors filed criminal animal cruelty charges against farm owners Brett and Alexis Ingraham. The Ingrahams pleaded not guilty and maintain their farm took in injured or malnourished animals that otherwise would have been euthanized.
The civil case is filed against the Ingrahams and five other people who owned some of the seized animals, which included dogs, goats and pigs.
Van Dyke said Murphy issued her ruling from the bench in Penobscot County Superior Court, where she is hearing an unrelated homicide case.
Part of the ruling, Van Dyke said, indicates that the state cannot assess a $200-a-day charge for the care of the animals back to the seizure date.
Van Dyke said the judge did not indicate on what date, if any, the billing period would begin.
"The lien cannot date back to the date of the search," he said.
He also said the judge found that the animals could stay in the state's possession because they were seized via search warrant.
"The effort to derail our efforts to protect these animals has been denied for now," District Attorney Evert Fowle said.
He said he expects the ownership hearing to be set some time in April.
Fowle said the issue of assessing the defendants for the care of the animals "is of much lesser importance than protecting the animals. We've won the first round of this."
"It's a complicated ruling, and I haven't fully analyzed it," Van Dyke said.
The state is seeking ownership of the animals, maintaining they were seized "because of diseased, dehydrated and malnourished conditions and the owner had cruelly abandoned them or cruelly treated them within the meaning of Title 17 MRSA subsection 1021."
The statute says, "Within 3 working days of possession of the animal, the humane agent or the state veterinarian shall apply to the court for a possession order. Upon good cause shown, the court shall expedite the case and schedule a prehearing conference to take place within 7 days of the seizure. The court shall set a hearing date and that hearing date must be within 21 days of the date the animal was seized."
"She announced her decision orally and handed the lawyers a multipage document which laid it out," Van Dyke said.
He said a continuation of the hearing -- which was interrupted by his motion to have the case dismissed -- will be rescheduled.
Dr. Christine Fraser, the veterinarian with the state's Animal Welfare Program, was being questioned on the witness stand in late January by Van Dyke when he sought the dismissal.
The judge then asked Van Dyke and the state -- represented by Assistant District Attorney Paul Rucha -- to file written arguments.
Betty Adams -- 621-5631