Humane Societies could lose legal authority in animal abuse cases

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Ohio law allows local humane societies to hire a private attorney to prosecute animal cruelty cases.

Now lawmakers propose doing away with that right and giving it to county authorities, like the sheriff and prosecutor.

Opponents say lawmakers are trying to reduce a Humane Society’s ability to protect animals.

“They are putting so much financial resources into these cases, not through public dollars we are doing  law enforcement work off of funds that are raised, this is not a money making endeavor,” said Rachel Finney, Capital Area Humane Society Executive Director, but speaking as the Vice President of the Ohio Federated Humane Societies. She said CAHS has not taken a stance on the legislation. She said  CAHS works exclusively with the city prosecutor’s office and has a 90 % rate of convictions on cases of animal abuse brought to court.

Humane societies have the right to hire special prosecutors the county pays for, and Finney said animals are living things and can’t be treated like other court cases.

“They are evidence and we are motivated to move them through the court process as quickly as possible,” Finney said.

That is a key reason humane societies say they need the right to decide whether to prosecute or not.

But Ohio Rep.Stephen Hambley (R) Brunswick, said county officials should handle the cases and appoint a special prosecutor if needed. A supporter’s Facebook page states “This proposal is designed to prevent Ohio’s Humane Societies from abusing their power.”

“There are opportunities to improve but that doesn’t mean the right to access private counsel should be entirely remove it is worth exploring,” Finney said. Although Finney is the Executive Director of the Capital Area Humane Society, she said they are taking a neutral stance on the legislation. She said the CAHS works well with the Franklin County prosecutor and municipal court system, with a 90 % rate of convictions on animal abuse cases. She said she is speaking about the legislation as the Vice President of the Ohio Federated Humane Societies.

For 89 years, non-profit humane societies have had the right to appoint special prosecutors and the county paid those bills.

Hambley told NBC4, he drafted the bill after hearing from county prosecutors and commissioners who are concerned about the ability of county humane societies to decide whether and what charges are filed against people accused of animal neglect or cruelty.

“Without any oversight by county or municipal elected officials there is the potential for abuse,” he said.

Hambley said even with the law, county prosecutors can still appoint special prosecutors if necessary.

But an attorney who represents animal abuse cases said there are no abuse of power, and it is not about making money. It is looking out for the best interest of the animals by attorney’s well versed in animal abuse laws.

The proposed law, Ohio House Bill 198 states it will abolishes the humane society’s authority to employ an attorney and assistant attorneys to prosecute certain violations of law dealing with animal cruelty.

The bill outright repeals the statute authorizing a humane society or its agent to employ an attorney and to also employ one or more assistant attorneys to prosecute violations of law relating.

Hambley said they are still modifying the proposal and it is a work in progress.

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