Common Pleas Judge Frank Forchione is giving the state two weeks to deliver the wild animals: five tigers, two pumas, two baboons and a chimpanzee back to their owner Cyndi Huntsman who runs the Stump Hill Farm in Perry Township, Ohio.
On May 4th, the State Department of Agriculture officials along with local police and the Ohio Highway Patrol removed the animals after obtaining a search warrant signed by Forchione. At a hearing the next morning, the judge made it clear that he signed the paperwork allowing the state access to property, but did not know Huntsman was working with her attorney to resolve issues with her state permit.
Huntsman’s attorney John Juergensen, and Assistant Attorney General James R. Patterson met with Forchione in his courtroom Thursday morning. The state removed the animals from Huntsman’s care because she does not have updated permits required under the new law.
Huntsman and her attorney believe a permit previously issued by the state Department of Natural Resources provides an exemption that should allow Huntsman to keep her exotic animals. The state disagrees.
Juergensen argued the state prematurely removed the animals from Stump Hill. The animals were under a state-ordered quarantine issued March 2. Under the order, the animals could not be removed from Stump Hill. A hearing scheduled for August 22 was set to determine whether the licensing permits Huntsman holds mean her animals are grandfathered.
Forchione questioned why the state removed the animals before the August hearing, adding that if Huntsman was successful in proving her permit was valid she would be able to keep her animals. “This disturbs me in a lot of ways,” Forchione said, referring to the state’s action in seeking the search warrant without first disclosing that Huntsman was working to resolve the matter. Forchione scolded state officials for failing to provide him with information about the ongoing conversations with Huntsman, the upcoming hearing and the quarantine order.
Patterson explained, The Department of Agriculture, needed the search warrant to gain entry to Stump Hill because Huntsman denied the state access to her property. The transfer order, issued by the Director of the Department of Agriculture is an administrative order and did not require the judge’s approval.
Patterson stated Huntsman had plenty of time to dispute the permit in addition to obtaining accreditation from the Zoological Association of America. Under the law, however, ZAA-accredited members could be exempt from obtaining a permit.
“The Department of Agriculture has tried to work with her,” Patterson said. “They have given her every opportunity to meet the law that others have done successfully.”
According to Juergensen over the past three years, Huntsman has been upgrading her facility to gain accreditation. She applied for a professional membership, an early stage of accreditation, but was recently denied. Juergensen notified the state of Huntsman’s denial informed the judge she planned to reapply.
An injunction hearing is scheduled for May 16th during which the state will present additional evidence to support the removal of the animals.
WCCLAS News Staff