Impassioned lawyering brought the trial of Monmouth County health and animal control officers to a critical juncture, but also to a halt short of concluding whether they improperly killed stray cats without a seven-day holding period.
Rapid-fire arguments in Manalapan municipal court also spotlighted the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and whether anyone else in New Jersey can bring cruelty charges for “needlessly killing” the cats.
Judge George Cieri said he will take time to review defense motions for directed acquittals. He gave the opposing attorneys 10 days to file briefs and another 10 to respond.
That takes the case past the last scheduled court date, Aug. 26, with any further proceedings depending on how the judge rules.
Defense attorney Richard Lomurro, representing Freehold Township Health Officer Julie Kramer, argued that court precedents, including a 2008 state Supreme Court decision, mean “that without the SPCA’s cooperation, this case cannot be prosecuted” by a private citizen.
The complaints were filed by Stuart Goldman, a former head of the Monmouth SPCA chapter who is feuding with current leaders. Anthony Lena, a Marlboro animal control officer who is an SPCA sergeant, testified for the prosecution. But he acknowledged that SPCA Capt. Buddy Amato decided not to press charges.
Amato has previously blamed poor record keeping for problems at Manalapan-based Western Monmouth Animal Control. Testimony in the case has described procedures that can be fatal to stray cats, including a “death warrant” form.
Prosecutor James Nelson Butler had no immediate counter for the precedents. But audience members from Camden County provided a citation for a municipal court case in Winslow successfully prosecuted although the SPCA failed to act.
Lomurro’s also argued that since the state defines euthanasia as “painless,” it does not meet the cruelty standard of unnecessarily inflicting pain. In any event, he said, Kramer did not bring any of the cats to the veterinarian who killed them.
The prosecution “isn’t even close to meeting any one of the elements” of the crime, Lomurro told Judge George Cieri. “It’s not even conceivable” that Kramer is guilty, he said.
Butler was firmer with his rebuttals on these points, saying, “Killing a cat is needless infliction of pain… especially when there was nothing wrong with them.”
He recalled the “very damning testimony” of William Martar, service director for Freehold Buick GMC. Martar admitted to falsely signing ownership papers for six cats so Kramer could have them killed.
Susan DeSimone, the attorney for animal control officers Cherlann Ambrose, John Domic and Sharon Gaboff, repeatedly denounced Goldman’s complaints as “a witch hunt.”
DeSimone clearly made headway with Cieri when she focused on a weakness in Goldman’s case: he did not witness the cat killings. Instead, Goldman filed Open Public Records Act requests and sorted through “thousands of documents” to “deduce” the killings, she said.
While that had Cieri nodding along, he demurred once she said Goldman “made up facts” about her clients when it was the veterinarian, Dr. Lawrence Weiner, who killed the animals.
“If you know taking a cat to the vet is going to result in the cats being euthanize and you don’t interfere… the state’s position is that the vet does not have the same obligation that the animal control officers do” to wait seven days, Cieri said.
“No, but the vet is bound to treat the animal,” DeSimone said.
“I didn’t hear that from him,’ Cieri said, adding Weiner instead asked, “’Who’s going to pay for that?’ I remember being surprised by that response.”