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Woman challenges restitution ordered in cruelty case

November 05, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- A Berkeley County woman who was convicted of animal cruelty for her treatment of 149 dogs at a shelter she was operating in 2006 is challenging the $114,883 in restitution she was ordered to pay in an appeal to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

In a 5-0 decision in favor of Mara Spade, 64, of Inwood, W.Va., the state's high court on Oct. 8 agreed to consider arguments by her attorney, Paul G. Taylor.

The case is not expected to be taken up by the high court until the January 2010 term of court based on general court scheduling practices, according to public information officer Jennifer Bundy.

In his petition, Taylor argued Spade was denied due process and claimed the prosecutor who handled the case breached a plea agreement by not holding a hearing to determine how much Spade owed for the care of the dogs while in custody of Berkeley County Animal Control.

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Taylor is seeking a refund of bond money that Spade posted for the care of the dogs while the animals were in state custody as well as a restitution hearing that he contends was part of a plea agreement with his client.

Spade in December 2007 entered a no-contest plea to one misdemeanor count of cruelty to animals, which she had been charged with in June 2006. She was ordered by Magistrate Joan V. Bragg to pay $114,883 in restitution for the county's care of the dogs, which were seized from Second Chance Rescue Inc. beginning in May 2006 and kept through February 2007.

"The big fight will be and always has been the restitution," Taylor said in an interview this week.

Taylor said the restitution that was ordered in magistrate court was "ruinous" since his client was only charged with one misdemeanor count of animal cruelty.

The restitution ordered was upheld in an August 2008 ruling by 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Christopher C. Wilkes, according to court records.

Wilkes cited state Rules of Criminal Procedure that he said didn't provide an avenue for Spade to file the appeal after she entered a no-contest plea, according to court records. Taylor in his appeal of Wilkes' decision argued that the criminal procedure rule didn't pertain to the denial of a restitution hearing for Spade.

In a sentencing hearing in February 2008, Bragg also ordered Spade not to have any contact with animals for five years and was placed on two years of probation. A 90-day jail sentence was suspended.

Former assistant prosecuting attorney Matthew Harvey argued Taylor had the right to contest the amount of expenses that Berkeley County Animal Control said it incurred from the time the first dog was seized from the shelter off Harlan Springs Road in May 2006, but that was not challenged within the deadline for an appeal.

Taylor argued his client entered the no-contest plea with the understanding she would be able to contest the state's restitution claim.

Dogs remaining in the custody of Animal Control at the end of February 2007 were released from custody to other agencies or placed in foster care after Spade failed to post a court-ordered bond to cover $114,883.77 in "actual expenses."

A veterinarian who visited Second Chance Rescue on June 29, 2006, reported the shelter had "inadequate ventilation, horrible sanitation, inadequate water and food," according to court records.

The veterinarian said one dog bit him during his visit and noted that a number of dogs had open wounds, poor skin and coats, and exhibited lameness.

Five dogs died while in the county's custody, officials have said.

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