Nation/World

Puppy Mill Operators Convicted Judge Blasts Overzealous Animal-Rights Activists

A Pend Oreille County judge Friday convicted a couple of 16 counts of animal cruelty in a ghastly puppy mill, then blistered animal-rights activists for trying to influence his decision.

Mountain Top Kennel operators Jeanette and Swen Bergman will be sentenced early next week.

The courtroom was cleared and searched before District Court Judge Chuck Baechler took the bench to render his verdict in the 2-week, nonjury trial.

Police were alerted after a woman called the prosecutor’s office with a message for Baechler: He should be “evicted” for allowing defense attorneys to quote the Bible and works of literature in closing arguments.

A receptionist said the woman, who did not identify herself, claimed to belong to a Spokane animal-rights group.

That incident late Friday morning occurred shortly after the Animal Legal Defense Fund, based in Petaluma, Calif., filed a “friendof-the-court” brief without permission, seeking a harsh sentence. Such briefs sometimes are accepted in appellate cases, but not during criminal trials.

Baechler denied a defense motion to hold the California group in contempt, but reserved judgment on a contempt finding against the group’s attorney.

Then he lambasted overzealous animal-rights advocates.

Baechler noted Pend Oreille County routinely has the highest unemployment in the state, but “there was no hue and cry” when state officials dashed county hopes for 300 new jobs by deciding not to build a new juvenile jail near Newport.

People who live along the Pend Oreille River are suffering from a devastating flood, but federal relief may be difficult to get because the number of victims is relatively small, Baechler continued.

Finally, he said, “There were far more children in this county who spent this last severe winter in small trailers, converted buses and rough cabins without running water and electricity than there were dogs at Mountain Top Kennel.”

Unlike the dogs, the children have no “rescue group,” Baechler said.

The judge sternly warned that any further unauthorized attempts to influence the court will result in a contempt citation and possible criminal prosecution.

“This court will not be subject to mob rule or vigilante justice,” Baechler said.

He intended to sentence the Bergmans Friday, but defense attorneys wanted to see his written findings first and have time to prepare. Baechler promised his findings Monday morning, and defense attorneys agreed to be ready by Tuesday.

The judge granted a defense motion to throw out a catch-all charge that included all the Mountain Top Kennel dogs not specifically cited in 26 other misdemeanor charges.

Baechler acquitted Jeanette Bergman, 45, of six counts of illegally clipping dogs’ ears, for which the maximum penalty is $20 per conviction. He had already dismissed the same charges against Swen Bergman, 48, because evidence indicated his wife did the cutting.

Of 20 misdemeanor animal-cruelty counts that remained against both defendants, Baechler found the couple innocent of four and guilty of 16. He didn’t announce his reasons.

Defense attorney Dennis Scott viewed the verdict as just the “first step in resolving the case.” He was already planning an appeal, based on arguments that the Sheriff’s Department improperly obtained and executed a search warrant.

Deputies and volunteers said they seized 205 badly neglected dogs at the kennel near Newport on Jan. 4-5 and put down 25. Fifteen dogs were already dead when authorities arrived.

Among other problems attributed to woefully inadequate shelter, sanitation and medical care, dogs had their intestines hanging out, broken bones sticking through their flesh and pus-oozing sores.

Deputy Prosecutor Tony Koures declined to say what sentence he will seek, but vowed it will be “substantial.”

Prosecutions of similar animal abuse in other states have resulted in months of jail time, Koures said.

Jeanette Bergman was sentenced to a month in jail when she was convicted in 1991 of animal-law violations in Kootenai County.

Bergman pleaded guilty to 10 counts of having unlicensed dogs, having an unlicensed kennel and feeding garbage, including dog parts, to pigs and other dogs. Magistrate Judge Paul McCabe said it was “an intolerable situation that a decent person would not allow to take place.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo



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