After five yrs of litigation, Iowa zoo entrepreneurs face fines or jail

A tangled and contentious 5-calendar year legal odyssey involving the house owners of japanese Iowa’s shuttered Cricket Hollow Zoo may perhaps eventually be in close proximity to an conclude.

The Iowa Supreme Court this week rejected zoo homeowners Pamela and Thomas Sellner’s initiatives to set aside a judge’s obtaining that they had been in contempt for getting refused a court docket get to surrender the animals at their roadside attraction in Manchester.

The contempt ruling phone calls for the Sellners to shell out $70,000 in fines. If payments are not created toward the fantastic, the Sellners will have to serve a one particular-day jail sentence for every animal that was not recovered from their zoo, for a complete of 140 times.

Courtroom data reveal no payments have been built on the great.

The penalty stems from a obtaining that the Sellners falsified documents and deliberately defied a 2019 court get that they relinquish custody of all the animals in their care.

That 2019 order grew out of a collection of lawsuits submitted in condition and federal court docket by a team of Iowans and the Animal Authorized Protection Fund. They sued the Sellners in 2016, alleging quite a few violations of Iowa’s animal neglect legislation. A choose inevitably dominated from the Sellners and successfully ordered the zoo shut with a lot of of the animals to be relocated to wildlife sanctuaries in other states.

But when animal-rescue corporations arrived at the eastern Iowa zoo, they located a lot of of the animals ended up missing, hidden, useless or sold. That triggered the contempt-of-court docket proceedings before Iowa District Courtroom Judge Monica Zrinyi Wittig.

In ruling final fall that the Sellners ended up in contempt, Wittig wrote that the couple’s mistreatment of animals at the zoo was orchestrated and intentional, and that they “knew what they have been obligated to do in purchase to be compliant” with her 2019 order but had in its place picked to take “deliberate action” in defiance of that order.

The missing animals involved 5 bears, two mountain lions, a camel, a fox, a wolf, 9 guinea pigs and hedgehogs, 13 lizards, 7 tortoises and turtles, at minimum 55 birds and 6 kinkajous.

The Sellners appealed the contempt ruling to the Iowa Supreme Court docket, arguing that if it was permitted to stand, it could possibly “cripple” Iowa’s agriculture economic system.

In December, the justices agreed to stay enforcement of the buy until finally it determined regardless of whether to assessment the make a difference. This week, the court rejected the Sellners’ request for the court docket to listen to their charm, and it lifted the stay on enforcement of the contempt ruling.

In rejecting the Sellners’ appeal, the courtroom designed no remark on the merits of their circumstance, but famous that their attorney experienced failed to conform to courtroom policies by submitting briefs in the scenario that were “significantly” in excess of the authorized size. Performing so, the justices observed, “impedes the court’s skill to successfully evaluation and act on filings.”