Case Snapshot
Case ID: 17830
Classification: Hoarding
Animal: cat
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Attorneys/Judges
Judge(s): Philip Pallenberg


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Friday, Dec 17, 2010

County: Juneau

Charges: Misdemeanor
Disposition: Convicted

Defendant/Suspect: Christen Blake

Case Updates: 4 update(s) available

Jury selection, opening statements and first witnesses were heard in Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg's courtroom in the case of a Juneau woman accused of hoarding feral cats.

Christen Blake is charged with one count of cruelty to animals, a class 'B' misdemeanor, which followed a Dec. 17, 2010 welfare check on her van parked at Auke Bay Harbor.

Criminal information filed in the case shows the Juneau Police Department conducted a welfare check and found the vehicle's doors frozen shut as temperatures were between 10 -- 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

The seven-member jury heard City Attorney August Petropulos say a strong odor came from the van when opened, and 15 cats were discovered in kennels inside.

Petropulos said one white cat was stained yellow with urine and some of the cages were frozen to the bottom of the van. He stated the jury should find Blake guilty of animal cruelty based on the theory of neglect.

Blake, representing herself and with the aid of hybrid counsel Marcus Rogers, said she was in the process of moving at the time away from a neighbor she alleged had vandalized her car.

Blake said she bought the van as a rescue vehicle and by reading the works of Mother Theresa "has learned to have a lot more hope and faith in what she was doing."

Due to the recession it was financially out of question to move, Blake said, so the van served as her and the cat's domicile. Blake said the Gastineau Humane Society, JPD, and Harbor staff violated her rights.

Blake said she spent more than $200,000 dollars on the cats and changed her living style to tend them.

"When do we as citizens say 'enough is enough?'" Blake asked. "You are going to hear a lot of horrible things about me. You won't hear me seeing a 14-year-old cat teach a younger one how to groom. My cats are gorgeous."

Wednesday's first witnesses were JPD Officer Carl Lundquist and Sgt. Stephen Hernandez.

Lundquist testified that the officers were concerned for safety of someone living inside. They could not see inside the van due to the amount of objects inside. A tow truck operator arrived to "jimmy" open the driver's side door after no one responded to knocks.

The officers testified to the horrible smell of urine that could be smelled up to three feet away. When opened, the officers found the entire van filled with trash. A narrow passage way led to the back. Lundquist said he donned gloves and a mask due to the smell.

When cat noises were heard, JPD dispatch called animal control.

The city entered photo exhibits showing the iced van, the interior of the cluttered van and the kennels with cats.

Blake objected to the evidence as illegally obtained. Pallenberg admitted the evidence saying it was a question for the jury to decide.

Blake said easy cases are given to new police recruits, such as Lundquist, and questioned him on procedure.

She questioned if he used a tape recorder when interviewing harbor employees or tried to call her cell phone, and learned he did not

"Had you have shown the respect with the facts you were given, couldn't you just place a ticket on the window?" Blake asked.

Pallenberg dismissed the jury to hear a complaint from Blake that her water containers were taken, and she said she wouldn't prosecute those who did it if they admitted to the theft.

Blake entered a car window reflective sunscreen and the labeling that describes what it does into evidence to show what the police officers had trouble seeing through.

Blake asked if the kennels were frozen and, if the car was frozen how did they smell urine?

"It was a burn-your-eyes smell," Hernandez said. "I directed Officer Lundquist to not stay in the van too long. It was pretty obnoxious. The threshold at the door was very pungent."

Lundquist said they couldn't smell the odor until the door was open because clear tape sealed in the air.

At the scene Hernandez decided that the number of cats and kennels found would be best served if the van towed to Gastineau Humane Society. At the society, the kennels and cats were unloaded.

Hernandez testified that some kennels contained feces and urine-stained newspaper.

Fifteen kennels, 17 cats, and one cat trap were removed from the van at GHS.

The jury trial will continue at 8:30 a.m. today as Blake will cross-examine Hernandez, and additional witnesses will be called.


Case Updates

The Juneau woman found guilty by jury trial April 11, 2011 for animal abuse by neglect, a Class B Misdemeanor, directed a verbal tirade at a city attorney in Juneau Superior Court on Friday before her sentencing hearing began.

Christian Blake stood up and pointed a cell phone camera at the gallery, taking photos of Gastineau Humane Society employees and media and then began shouting accusations at attorney August Petropulos prior to Judge Philip Pallenberg entering the courtroom.

Blake also snapped a photo of Petropulos before saying he made fraudulent claims, that no two of his witnesses said the same thing, and that the FBI are a bit behind in reviewing his records and she will contact the State police.

"You have no conscience August," Blake screamed before being warned three times by the court clerk. Blake's guilty findings stemmed from a Dec. 17, 2010 welfare check on her van by the Juneau Police Department that revealed she was living with 17 cats in unsanitary conditions.

As Friday's hearing began Blake stated she had been threatened while leaving the library the previous night while preparing for the case and that JPD officers did not want to take the report.

Blake than raised her voice at Pallenberg stating she has lost two thirds of her income.

"Look at me," Blake said. "I am a 54-year-old woman. Look at what you are hurting."

Blake stated her treatment was, "Very similar as to the way black people were treated in the south in the 50's."

Pallenberg stopped Blake as she began repeating the facts of the case over and over.

"I am going to proceed in this case like I have done every other case before me," Pallenberg said.

Blake said she objected and that there was no relevance as to the issue of cats in her van the night in question.

Petropulos called GHS director Chava Lee to the stand as part of the cities sentencing statement.

Lee said that the burden of keeping the cats over the next year is more than $300 a day and has amounted to more than $40,000. The cost is not borne by CBJ or animal control but by the GHS, a nonprofit. Lee said the cats now have access to natural light, fresh air, and a variety of rooms to be free in but are taking up available space. That space is expected to be filled by the amount of unwanted cats and kittens that will be brought in over the next months.

Lee stated that kennel staff has done an incredible job keeping up with the amount of cleaning involved in sanitizing each room the cats are moved to when visitors arrive. Lee also said their age will make it difficult for them to be adopted, but 14 of the original 17 have been nursed back to health and are now adoptable.

"Despite the fact the cats are in a better place they do need to be in a home where a person can love and care for them," Lee said.

Lee also stated that the GHS and their vets have been receiving daily threats from Blake, some on their personal phones.

The city played recordings in which Blake is heard exclaiming the GHS was committing crimes against humanity and will be prosecuted. Blake said Lee had stolen her charity, lied repeatedly.

Lee stated that this was how GHS began every day, "By listening to Christen Blake verbally abuse and threaten us."

Lee told Pallenberg that there is no reason at all for Blake to contact them after this. Lee said as the executive director of GHS for 11 years she has visited dozens of humane societies across the U.S.

"We have different beliefs and faiths," Lee said. "But when we walk through the doors we have one common goal to provide the best care for our animals."

Blake said that GHS wanted to throw her cats in the Southeast Alaska forests. Lee responded by saying cats deemed feral by veterinarians would be set up in a colony and managed by the GHS and other individuals.

Blake requested that the courtroom go over to look at her cats. After repeated interruptions of Lee by Blake and Blake's claims of Lee euthanizing her cats Pallenberg stated, "I am giving you three strikes. If you interrupt her three times the cross examination is over."

Blake again asked that the court go as a group to look at the cats and Pallenberg again denied that motion.

Blake next began saying her own attorney has been more of a distraction

"I am going through so much pain," Blake said. "Right now to sit in a room with a judge who has allowed lairs to take the stand. Do you take people from Hurricane Katrina and ask them about the health of their cats?"

Petropulos' sentencing recommendation was for Blake to forfeit all cats, kennels, cat traps, not possess any animals for the term of probation, have an assessment by Juneau Alliance for Mental Health, Inc (JAMHI), no contact with the city law department except in writing, no contact with the humane society, period, or its workers, a restitution to be determined later, 90 days in jail all suspended, three years probation and a $500 fine, all suspended.

"Because of her strong belief in her love for her cats, she will be right back at it unless there is some deterrent," Petropulos said.

Blake said she and her cats have gone through a lot together and are trusting in God.

"I learned more in a vehicle with the cats than I have anywhere else," Blake said. "God wants something to be shown through this. People came to this state in covered wagons, tramped through the snow… you might call me mentally ill but what is ill is that we are even having this conversation"

Blake asked that Pallenberg consider her humanitarian work.

"You can call a halt to this and return my cats," Blake said. "If that is not workable then allow me to appeal and go to another court. I could go to another state and litigate this in court. I can't crawl into your head and prove to you I am a good person. I am asking that you show me a little dignity, if some good can come out of my work than let me continue to do it."

Pallenberg asked that Blake rest her statements or be forcibly removed.

"I ask that you give me a little decency," Blake said. "You cannot see any good coming out of this by prosecuting. If you see a possibility of good coming out of my work than allow me to continue to do it."

Pallenberg said the legal system allows people to say any vile or viscous thing about another person and Blake had the liberty to do that.

"A lot of this comes down to that Miss Blake gives a description of events that is different from what I heard from every other person who testified," Pallenberg said. "It is always difficult to judge conflicting testimony. It is easier to dissolve those discrepancies when one person who gives those accounts has also given descriptions of events that have played out in the courtroom in front of me and that description is completely divorced from reality. And I heard one account after another of things that happened in court, of what was testified to and what photographs looked like, things that I said or lawyers said, which is almost invariably entirely different from what I observed."

Pallenberg stated that Blake was not perceiving reality accurately and not describing past events accurately. Pallenberg said he could either conclude that there was a massive conspiracy consisting of the CBJ Law Department, Harbor Department, Animal Control, JPD, and GHS, or that Blake was not relating to the events.

"There is no question in my mind that Miss Blake suffers from a mental illness that causes her to describe events differently from the way they actually happened," Pallenberg said. "I am willing to believe she is not lying but her perceptions are different to an extent that one can only describe them as paranoid."

Pallenberg stated that a jury heard the evidence and after a fair trial concluded that Blake was guilty of cruelty to animals and the things Blake has pointed to as alleged flaws in the proceedings is not an accurate depiction of the evidence presented.

"I think that Miss Blake hears things she wants to hear and that can clearly be attributed to a mental illness," Pallenberg said. "She perceives that she was rescuing cats when she was imprisoning cats in appalling conditions. Certainly this is not the worst case of animal cruelty I have seen but this is the worse neglect case. I think the cats have suffered enough and they deserve to move on to something other than life in dark dank kennels, laying in their own filth, breathing rancid air."

Pallenberg sentenced Blake to 90 days in jail with 90 suspended, a $500 fine, all suspended, and probation for five years. Conditions of probation were to violate no laws, not to enter GHS property or contact GHS or its officers or employees, and their immediate families, but to walk away if seeing them, and to have no contact with the CBJ law department except in writing. Pallenberg ruled that the cats, cat traps and kennels are forfeited, and that Blake cannot possess any animal unless she first completes a court approved mental health evaluation.

"It is okay to be angry, everyone has a right to be angry," Pallenberg said. "It is not okay to be threatening and abusive, the phone calls I heard were threatening and abusive. This is a sad case. I don't doubt Miss Blake feels a strong love for these cats and thought she was rescuing them. This case has been a little bit like watching a car crash and I was watching Miss Blake unravel."

Pallenberg did rule that Blake can watch people's pets or walk their pets if the owners consent, but cannot possess pets in her home or vehicle during her probation. After probation she must have a city accepted mental health evaluation if she is going to have pets. Pallenberg also said restitution would be counter productive as she has no income.

"Conditions are imposed for good reasons," Pallenberg said to Blake. "If there are other violations I will put you in jail. These are important conditions."

Blake stated that Pallenberg said she would suffer abuse from this trial and asked how she could seek help from the Police Department if they did not keep records of her and they scream at her.

"Once again, characterizing things I have said in court, your words are different from what I have used," Pallenberg said.

Blake can file an appeal to the District Court within 15 days or the Superior Court within 30 days.
Source: juneauempire.com - Apr 30, 2011
Update posted on May 1, 2011 - 8:41PM 
A Juneau Superior Court judge Thursday denied a motion to suppress evidence, along with several other motions, from a woman found guilty in Juneau Superior Court on Monday of cruelty to animals for neglecting 17 cats she lived with in a van.

Christen Blake stated she had additional motions to address before the hearing began and requested Pallenberg's recuse himself. She also requested his judicial conduct be reviewed and a change of venue.

Pallenberg explained the normal process if a judge made errors in ruling or was in some way or other incorrect was for her to file an appeal so another judge can review the case.

Blake again said Pallenberg had said during the trial she had no civil rights, one juror was chewing gum, and another had fallen asleep. She accused witnesses of making false statements during the trial and alluded to possible marijuana and alcohol abuse from Pallenberg.

Pallenberg said Blake could file an appeal at the end of the case and if he made errors, she had an absolute right to have those instances reviewed.

Pallenberg said there were no facts that showed he should remove himself from the case or that affect his ability to sit as an impartial judge in the case. Pallenberg also said if Blake would point him to the portion of the courtroom taping where he said improper remarks he would go back and listen to it. He said the court would not reargue the case again, denied the request he be removed, issued an order that refers the case to another judge for review, denied the motion for change of venue prior to trial because there was no shortage of fair and impartial jurors in Juneau and reminded Blake the trial had already been held and if the venue change were granted he would be the presiding judge for the remainder of the hearings.

The proceedings then turned to their stated purpose: Blake's request evidence seized during a Juneau Police Department welfare check at her van be ruled illegally obtained and inadmissible.

"The motion to suppress was filed two days before trial," Pallenberg said. "And rather than deny the motion as untimely, and since you were pro se I gave you the latitude of allowing the matter to be raised at that late date but to be dealt with after the trial. I did that to make an accommodation for you."

When the evidentiary suppression hearing began, Pallenberg said the standard under case law for a warrantless welfare check included that police must have reasonable grounds to believe there is an emergency at hand and immediate need for their assistance for protection of life or property. Pallenberg also said the search must not be primarily motivated by the intent to arrest and there must be some reasonable data of approximate probable cause to associate the origin with the area to be searched. Under that standard, he ruled the welfare check by Juneau police officers was warranted.

The issue, he said, was whether the entry into the van fell within the emergency aid exception of the general requirement police officers obtain a warrant or permission before searching a residence. He ruled it did, since it was clear officers were making sure no one was in distress in the vehicle, and denied the motion to suppress evidence obtained in the search.

The court wished to proceed with sentencing and Amy Mead, an attorney for the city, agreed but Blake asked for more time. She also requested leave to appeal her conviction with a filing deadline far enough out to allow her to review law without having to worry about judicial misconduct.

"This is my life," Blake said. "Am I going to go to jail for people who are fraudulently stating appearances that cannot happen? We can not have what they say. Never in nature have we seen some of these statements."

Blake requested the cats taken to the Gastineau Humane Society not be adopted out or euthanized.

Pallenberg set the sentencing hearing for 2 p.m. Thursday.
Source: juneauempire.com - Apr 14, 2011
Update posted on May 1, 2011 - 8:39PM 
The woman charged with animal abuse for neglecting 17 cats sharing her living space in a van was found guilty by a jury in Juneau Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg's courtroom on Monday.

A six-member jury found Christen Blake guilty of cruelty to animals, a class 'B' misdemeanor, after a Dec. 17, 2010 welfare check on her van in Auke Bay Harbor turned up 15 kennels housing 17 cats in various stages of ill health.

A class 'B' misdemeanor carries a maximum of 90 days in jail and a $2,000 dollar fine.

City Attorney August Petropulos and litigation assistant Joanne Carson did not comment on what the city will ask for in a sentencing hearing. Blake did not accept an earlier settlement offer. A sentencing hearing cannot be set until after a motion to dismiss evidence is ruled on. Blake filed that motion two days before the trial began on April 6, claiming illegal search and seizure of her van by the Juneau Police Department. That hearing has been set for 9:30 a.m. Thursday.

Blake requested that the cats be returned to her but Pallenberg cited a city ordinance stating that upon a defendant's conviction the court may forfeit full ownership of any animal that was involved in the conviction of abuse.

Both Petropulos and Carson could not remember a prosecution on animal abuse being settled in Juneau court in their time as attorneys.

Hybrid counsel Marcus Rogers, appointed by the court to aid Blake because she was representing herself, was asked to stay on through the filing of appeal by Blake.

Blake also said it was disappointing that Pallenberg was such a hard judge and did not conduct himself as state Supreme Court Justice Walter Carpeneti would.

Before Monday's proceedings began, Blake requested to the court that the press not be allowed in the courtroom because she believed the Empire was misquoting her.

"If the journalist's report was inaccurate it would strike me as an undue restraint on the freedom of the press," Pallenberg said. "I think it is not for judges, except in fairly compelling circumstances to review the accuracy of press reports."

Pallenberg said the only situation where the court can get involved in matters of reporting is if there are some very unusual circumstances that affect the fairness of the trial proceedings and jeopardize either party's right to a fair trial. Pallenberg said the jury was instructed to avoid any media reports.

"Unless I have some reason to believe that a juror is disobeying that instruction I rely upon the good faith of the jury and their willingness to follow that instruction," Pallenberg said. "Even if the reporting of some media outlet is inaccurate I am inclined to assume, unless I have some reason to believe otherwise, that is not going to affect the trial because the jury will not have heard it."

Blake also said that on the second day of proceedings Pallenberg had stated to her openly in court "We have had enough of your civil rights."

"I consider that gross misconduct," Blake said. "I consider that prejudicing a jury. I consider that bad manners in general, and I feel that this is not the first time I have indicated misconduct."

Pallenberg said he did not make that statement and would not make that statement and if he made a statement Blake felt was inappropriate that prejudiced the jury she had a right to appeal and could take it up with another court. Pallenberg also said Blake could file a complaint of misconduct with the appropriate authorities.

The motion for a mistrial was denied. Blake's request to remove a juror because she chewed gum was also denied.

Once those motions were resolved, Petropulos resumed his cross-examination of Blake. She said cats do not necessarily want to use the bathroom in a different place from where they sleep and that she did not allow her cats to run outside for fear they would be eaten by bears or eagles. She did, however, allow the cats to run between to large dog kennels.

In his closing argument Petropulos said there was evidence the cats were underweight with no access to food or water and covered in urine and feces. He also said the cats were deprived of sunlight and exercise and suffered from health issues.

"Is this neglect?" Petropulos asked. "That is the question before you today."

In her closing argument, Blake said she was a person that rescues feral cats and that normally she stayed on top of things and quoted Mother Theresa. Blake said JPD lied and knowingly ruined her transmission, causing $4,000 in damage. She also pointed out her actions prevented feral cats from mating and creating, by her count, 142 unwanted kittens. She also said she gave a cat named Baby electrolytes when it was ill.

Blake said she was thankful for what she learned about cats having them in the van, that her cats were homeless before she took them in, and that singers Lenny Kravitz and Jewel lived in cars.

"I just pray to god that I get my cats back and this will all just be a very bad memory," Blake said.

She also expressed her love for the cats.

"I have no doubt in my mind that these animals feel separation anxiety and miss me," Blake said. "These animals were not uncared for or not provided for by me. There is a lot of misrepresentation of facts. I have been honest and I love my cats."

In rebuttal, Petropulos said, "It is clear the city can humbly assert Ms. Blake is a troubled individual. Unfortunately troubled individuals can commit crimes and troubled individuals can create victims. In this case the victims are these cats."

The jury came back with one question while deliberating, asking if the defendant doesn't think she acted knowingly in failing to care for the animals, than can we conclude as a jury that she acted knowingly.

Pallenberg and the parties clarified for the jury that the city does not need to prove that the defendant acted intentionally, the city must prove that the defendant acted knowingly.
Source: juneauempire.com - Apr 11, 2011
Update posted on May 1, 2011 - 8:37PM 
Polly, Louise, Carliegh, Annie, Nina, Margaret, Lilly May, Georgie Bush, Hanky, Cutie Pie, Ginger Lee, Brownie, Noah Beth, Teddy, Noah Beth, Baby Paris, and Claire, who turned out to be Neal.

"And Charles AKA Cha Cha," Christen Blake said inside Juneau Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg's courtroom on Thursday. "He goes by both. And Baby Paris goes by either. I love them all. Noah Beth we thought was a boy at first, and since the Noah was already there we just added Beth."

What came to light in the second day of testimony in Blake's trial for cruelty to animals, a class B misdemeanor offense, is that she does love her cats. However, four where found to have owner identification chips and all were without food and water and mired in their own feces when Juneau Police officers performed a welfare check on Blake's van on Dec. 17, 2010.

There was a happy ending for one of the seized cats.

"One of the best moments was returning a cat to its owner," Gastineau Humane Society Animal Control Officer Ben Peyerk said from the witness stand. "There were tears and a lot of emotions."

Calls to the manufacturer of the chips by GHS revealed that two cats belonged to Blake. Another chip revealed the animal was reported missing on July 9, 2008.

Peyerk, who helped transfer the cats from the van to the GHS clean shelters testified that 17 cats, 15 kennels and two cat traps were in the van. One trap could not be removed from the van because it was frozen inside.

Peyerk identified evidence photos shown by city attorney August Petropulos which showed fur matted solid with feces, cats partially shaved to remove the matted waste, and a photo of a cat with paws stained yellow with urine alongside another photo of the same cat, now with white paws and muzzle.

"All the cats had several things wrong with them," Peyerk said. "From ocular discharge, matted fur, or dirty. Matted, greasy fur, like they had taken a long time to get that way. I was just down there yesterday petting some of the cats, they are very soft and fuzzy now."

Blake asked Peyerk a series of questions.

"Could you assume that I could manage my cats?" Blake said. "You don't know what I do with my cats correct?"

"I did not know what your plans were," Peyerk said. "I did know the cats were in poor living conditions."

Peyerk said he was concerned because the report was Blake had not been seen near the van for three days.

Blake asked if GHS was performing emergency medical procedures on the cats, and if they had spayed Sylvester who had already been spayed.

Blake stated the officer did not know when the cats had a last meal, and asked if anyone at the shelter groomed feral cats, if officer Peyerk had ever thrown cats into the street or woods, if Peyerk had ever fed or had managed any feral cat colonies, had heard News of the North calling her the cat thief of Alaska, and of Hanky, the uneven cat, being put in a run with 14 male cats.

"Do you feel it is proper for a cat to stay in a room when it is sexually active?"

Blake asked. "Do you think I don't have the ability to take care of my cats?"

Peyerk replied, "I don't know you well enough to make that decision. Just because someone has the ability to run a 100 meter dash doesn't mean they are going to do it."

Judge Pallenberg allowed one more question from Blake after calling counsels to the bench.

"Do you feel I am very honest?" Blake said.

"I feel you are relatively honest," Peyerk replied.

Petropulos asked Peyerk besides his mentioning of urine, feces, and lack of freedom of movement what other issues the cats faced in the van.

"Lack of light," Peyerk said. "The way the windows had materials taped to them it let absolutely no light in and there were sheets over the kennels that blocked any other light. There was no fresh air. It was unsafe for animals and people."

Peyerk said that GHS has purchased haz-mat suits and air devices to deal with any future events such as this.

"Would a feral cat want to remain in the wild?" Petropulos asked?

"I would say a wild animal or feral cat would prefer to be in the wild rather than a tiny cage in complete darkness," answered Peyerk.

Testimony had begun early in the day with JPD Sergeant Stephen Hernandez still on the witness stand, and Blake's questions were repetitive.

Blake asked if Hernandez remembered screaming or laughing at her over a past stalking complaint she phoned in, or laughing hysterically at an officer's conduct.

Hernandez stated he does not laugh at callers and takes very serious any complaints.

"That is not my nature," Hernandez stated.

"Do you know I rescue feral cats?" Blake asked.

Hernandez replied, "I know you have cats. I know you had a trap and kennels of cats inside your vehicle. My main concern was for your safety; we wanted to make sure there was not a person inside. Then we found a cat and it was our concern for the cats safety."

Hernandez stated that he believed Blake was living in the vehicle.

Judge Pallenberg excused the jurors for the day but warned Blake that her line of repeating questions would not be allowed on day three. Pallenberg stated that he wanted the jury to have the case Friday rather than have to resume the trial on Monday. Blake faces a class B misdemeanor charge.
Source: juneauempire.com - Apr 7, 2011
Update posted on May 1, 2011 - 8:33PM 

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