Case Snapshot
Case ID: 2499
Classification: Hoarding
Animal: dog (non pit-bull)
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Wednesday, Dec 31, 2003

County: Douglas

Disposition: Convicted

Defendant/Suspect: Bob Stirton

Case Updates: 3 update(s) available

A jury found Stirton guilty of animal neglect. Stirton gets probation after 17-month jail term suspended, but Stirton must give up his dogs, complete 31 days of community service.

Bob Stirton was placed on probation and ordered to give up his nearly three dozen dogs after being convicted on 31 counts of animal neglect.

Stirton was sentenced to nearly 17 months in jail. The sentence will be suspended, however, if Stirton successfully completes three years of probation. Besides having to give up his dogs, Stirton was also ordered to serve 31 days of community service, one for each count and for each dog. In addition, he was asked to provide 40 large bags of dry dog food in his possession to Saving Grace and to write three essays on unique and innovative dog care.

Under the animal neglect statute, Stirton is barred from possessing animals for the next five years. Miller's order allows him the opportunity to arrange for the adoption of his dogs with people he approves. A forfeiture order would have not provided him with any involvement in the adoption process.


Case Updates

The Oregon Court of Appeals has upheld a forfeiture order stripping Bob Stirton of legal title to 31 dogs seized from him after Stirton was accused of neglecting the animals.

However, the appeals court found that the county was improperly awarded $11,013 to pay for the cost of keeping the dogs at the Saving Grace Animal Shelter for several months while the court cases were heard.

Stirton, who represented himself before the Court of Appeals, claimed Russell Trump, justice of the peace for the Drain Justice Court, lacked authority to order the forfeiture of the dogs.

Under state law, a court handling a criminal case involving mistreatment of animals also has jurisdiction over civil forfeiture of those same animals.

"In this case, the justice court was 'the court' before which the criminal action was pending on the animal neglect charges," wrote Judge Jack L. Landau in the decision by a three-member panel. "Therefore, that court was authorized to order forfeiture of the animals."

The animals were seized Dec. 23, 2003, after animal control officers alleged the dogs weren't receiving adequate care. They were removed from a rural property in Curtin and housed for nine months at the Saving Grace shelter in Wilbur. The animals were eventually adopted out.

Stirton also argued in briefs filed with the Court of Appeals that Douglas County lacked standing to be awarded the animal care costs. The award was made by Douglas County Circuit Judge Joan Seitz during a writ of review hearing where Stirton had appealed the Justice Court decision.

The writ of review action was brought against Trump. Because the county was not a party to that action, it could not benefit from an award, the Court of Appeals ruled.

Last fall, Mary Deitz, who was then chief judge for the Court of Appeals, dismissed Stirton's appeal before the court. She ruled that Stirton failed to properly serve notice of the appeal to the county. Instead, he served Trump.

In January, David Brewer, who took over as chief judge after Deitz retired, reinstated the appeal. The court cut Stirton some slack since he isn't an attorney.

Last December, Stirton's criminal conviction on 31 counts of animal neglect was overturned. Circuit Judge William Lasswell dismissed the charges after ruling that evidence collected in the case was improperly obtained. Lasswell ruled animal control deputies from the Douglas County Sheriff's Office should have obtained a search warrant before going onto the property and removing the dogs.
Source: News-Review - Oct 21, 2005
Update posted on Oct 21, 2005 - 5:07PM 
The Oregon Court of Appeals has reinstated an appeal brought by dog owner Bob Stirton in the civil case in which he lost title to 30 dogs taken into custody by Douglas County.

Chief Judge David Brewer agreed to a motion filed by Stirton asking the appeals court to reconsider its Sept. 29 decision to dismiss the appeal on technical grounds. County officials received notice of the court's action on Monday.

Last fall, former Chief Judge Mary Deitz ruled that Stirton failed to properly serve Douglas County with notice of the appeal. In his motion for reconsideration, Stirton, who is representing himself, said he didn't see why he had to serve Cynthia Phillips, assistant county attorney. He said he believed adequate notice was provided by serving Russell Trump, the Drain Municipal Court judge who ordered that the dogs be forfeited to the county.

Because the county appoints municipal court judges, Phillips represented Trump in the appeal. Under regular court procedures, a party's attorney must be listed on the filing papers and that person served with all legal notices. The court apparently decided to cut Stirton some slack because he is not an attorney.

Thirty-one dogs belonging to Stirton were taken into custody on Dec. 23, 2003, after county animal control officers alleged the animals weren't receiving adequate care. Stirton disagreed with earlier news reports claiming some of the dogs were underweight. He contended the animals were in good health and shouldn't have been taken from him.

The dogs were kept for nine months at the Saving Grace Pet Adoption Center in Wilbur before county commissioners turned over legal title to the animals to Saving Grace. Some of the dogs were adopted by the shelter and others sent to a shelter operated in Portland by the Oregon Humane Society.

It's unlikely, however, that Stirton will be able to argue before the Court of Appeals that Trump should not have given the county legal title to the dogs. In his appeal to the Court of Appeals, Stirton sought only to invalidate a damage award ordered by Circuit Judge Joan Seitz.

After Trump's ruling, Stirton had appealed that decision to Seitz. The Douglas County Circuit Court judge affirmed Trump's ruling and ordered that Stirton pay $11,013 to compensate the county for its care of the animals at $3 per day per dog.

Stirton, who lives in Cottage Grove, had tried to appeal the forfeiture order. However, his motion of appeal was filed with the Drain Municipal Court rather than the Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals gave Stirton a month to submit a brief on his appeal.
Source: The News Review - Jan 4, 2005
Update posted on Jan 6, 2005 - 6:14AM 
Evidence collected on the day 31 dogs belonging to Bob Stirton were seized last year from a field near Curtin cannot be used against the dog owner during an appeal of his criminal conviction, a judge has ruled.

Douglas County Circuit Judge William Lasswell sided with the defense on a motion that the evidence was illegally obtained because law enforcement officers did not have a search warrant when they entered the property on Wards Butte Lookout Road.

In June, Stirton, 64, was convicted in Drain Municipal Court of 31 counts of animal neglect, one for each dog. He appealed the conviction to circuit court, where he is scheduled to go to trial on Dec. 14. The ruling excluding the evidence was made Monday.

Stirton had tried to establish an animal refuge for dogs and cats outside Drain in 2001. After running into financial difficulties, he was evicted from his property and charged with trespassing after remaining there. The dogs and cats were held at the shelter for a short time in 2002 before being released back to Stirton.

Critics called Stirton a hoarder who didn't provide adequate care for his animals. He has denied that characterization, saying he was only trying to give unwanted animals a better life than being put to death.

Roseburg attorney Julie Agee, who represents Stirton, argued in a court filing that sheriff's deputies had no right to go onto the property without a warrant or without her client's consent. They had neither.

Deputy Lee Bartholomew had gone to the property on Dec. 22, 2003, then returned the next day to seize the dogs and have them taken to the Saving Grace Pet Adoption Center near Wilbur.

Agee argued that Bartholomew had time to obtain a warrant but didn't seek one. However, before returning to the site, he arranged to have a prisoner work crew deployed to the site and alerted Saving Grace officials that the dogs would be coming to the shelter.

Colin Benson, the deputy Douglas County district attorney handling the case, said Thursday he was weighing his options.

"We are considering whether we can go ahead (with the case)," he said.

Benson said he is considering appealing Lasswell's ruling to the Oregon Court of Appeals or moving forward without the use of the evidence collected on Dec. 23.

"If so, we won't talk about that day and we'll use all of the other evidence we collected," Benson said.

Two of the dogs died in custody. Most of the others were sent to the Oregon Humane Society in Portland after Douglas County commissioners in October ordered legal title of the animals be given to Saving Grace.

A separate court ruling had stripped Stirton of legal ownership of his animals, but commissioners wanted to wait until a resolution of the criminal case before deciding what to do with the animals. After the appeal was filed and the county grew weary of spending $3,000 a month to house and feed the animals, the commissioners acted to have them adopted out.

The dogs were thought to have a better chance of getting adopted in Portland, since the Oregon Humane Society shelter serves a larger population base, shelter manager Maureen McNulty said.

Four of the dogs were adopted from the Saving Grace shelter. Seven others remain at the shelter, although three of those were scheduled to be transferred to the Portland shelter today, McNulty said.
Source: The News Review - Dec 3, 2004
Update posted on Dec 3, 2004 - 8:24PM 

References

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