PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday unanimously upheld the conviction of a Franklin County woman on the civil violation of cruelty to animals. Justices, for the first time, considered and rejected a challenge to the law for vagueness.
In January 2012, 26 cats were seized from the home of Julia Peck, 58, of Industry, Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley wrote in her 11-page opinion. Ten cats were removed from Peck’s home the previous October.
Each suffered from one or more medical problems, including tapeworm, ringworm, an upper respiratory disease, conjunctivitis, fleas and ear infections; some were so ill that they bore stillborn litters, she said. The bill to treat, house and care for the cats totaled $36,800.
In his brief, Andrew S. Robinson, deputy district attorney for Franklin County, quoted Dr. Christine Fraser, veterinarian with the state’s Animal Welfare Program, about the conditions of the cats taken from Peck’s home: “This is overall the probably sickest, most heavily parasitic-infested population that I have come across. Basically they had just about every disease and parasite that cats can get.”
After a jury-waived trial in September 2012 before Judge Nancy D. Carlson in Farmington District Court, Peck was found to have violated the law and was prevented from having any animals other than two spayed or neutered cats. She also was ordered to pay a $500 fine, $18,000 in restitution for the care and housing of the seized cats and to post a $6,400 bond that would support them while she pursued an appeal.
Peck, who represented herself at trial, was appointed an attorney to file and argue the appeal for her. Justices heard oral arguments April 9 at the Cumberland County Courthouse.
The appeal argued that the animal cruelty statute was unconstitutionally vague, that the judge should have compelled a defense witness to testify and that the evidence did not support the finding or the restitution order.
The justices disagreed.
“Maine’s cruelty-to-animals statute is not unconstitutionally vague,” Saufley said. “Rather, the statute expressly defines ‘necessary medical attention’ as the attention required ‘when the animal is or has been suffering from illness, injury, disease, [or] excessive parasitism.’ There is nothing about the statute that would require a person of ordinary intelligence to guess at its meaning.”
The appeal was “the first time the Law Court has squarely looked at” the issue of vagueness in the cruelty to animals statute, Robinson said Wednesday.
The state’s high court also agreed that Peck’s witness, a local veterinarian, should not be required to testify because of the short notice given by Peck. Saufley also wrote that there was sufficient evidence to find Peck had violated the law and the restitution order was fair.
Peck’s attorney, Tawny Alvarez of Portland, said Wednesday in an email: “While I respect the law court and the difficult work they do, I am disappointed with the decision.”