UPDATE: The case involving a temporary restraining order that halted the return of nearly two dozen dogs to a woman who pleaded guilty to animal cruelty has been assigned to a different Vanderburgh County judge. Court records show Vanderburgh County Superior Court Judge Mary Margaret Lloyd will now preside over the civil case against Martha Crosley.
Attorneys representing Crosley, 68, requested the case to be transferred out of Judge Robert Tornatta’s court Thursday morning. Earlier this week, Judge Tornatta granted a temporary restraining order which blocked the return of 21 dogs into Crosley’s care.
Crosley pleaded guilty to five counts of animal cruelty last Friday. The criminal case against her originated from from the seizure of 68 dogs from Crosley’s “animal sanctuary” on Hillview Drive in February. Authorities said many of the dogs were living in deplorable conditions. Some of the animals were severely malnourished and had untreated medical issues. Since the animals were seized, a large network of local animal rescue groups and fosters have been taking care of them.
When Crosley pleaded guilty last Friday, Magistrate Judge J. August Straus went against the recommendations of prosecutors and local rescue groups, opting to have 21 dogs returned to Crosley’s care. The following Monday, the local rescue groups, which included VHS, It Takes a Village, PC Pound Puppies, Another Chance for Animals and the Humane Society of Henderson County, sought a temporary restraining order in order to prevent Crosley receiving the dogs.
During Thursday’s hearing regarding the civil complaint, Crosley’s attorney, John Goodridge, motioned for a new judge. Goodridge alleged the injunction was against trial rules because neither he nor Crosley were present for Monday’s hearing.
Tornatta rebuked the allegations, sternly telling Goodridge there was no improper or one-sided communications. Plaintiff’s attorney Joshua Claybourn said detailed records were kept and an on-the-record injunction hearing was held.
The court administrator randomly selected Chief Judge Richard D’Amour to be assigned the case. However, he later notified the court that he would have to recuse himself, citing a conflict of interest. The case was then assigned to Judge Lloyd, who later accepted the appointment, according to court records.
“We will certainly do everything we can to make sure these 21 dogs are not returned to Ms. Crosley,” said attorney Susan Odoyo, who is representing some of the animal rescue groups listed in the case. “We filed [the civil complaint] because we thought there was going to be irreparable harm to these dogs if they were to be returned to Ms. Crosley’s place.”
The temporary restraining order blocking Crosley from retrieving the animals lasts through next Wednesday. Officials from local rescue groups, who said they were prepared to present their case today, will be asking the order to be extended.
“Our organization decided to join in with the other organizations involved because we feel very strongly that these animals deserve to not live in that environment,” said Kendall Paul, the executive director of VHS. “They deserve to either stay at the homes they’re already in or be put for up adoption so we can find new families that will allow that animal to join their family.”
Paul said Crosley adopted two of the 21 dogs listed on the civil complaint from the Vanderburgh Humane Society. Crosley also adopted two dogs from the Humane Society of Henderson County. According to the civil complaint, Crosley breached the adoption contracts at both shelters when she neglected and abused the animals.
“According to our adoption contract, if we have found evidence that they are not providing proper care then we can revoke that and reclaim the dogs,” said Angela Hagedorn, the executive director of the Humane Society of Henderson County. “[Crosley’s] contract was processed and the application was approved. We go on good faith that they will follow the contract. Whenever we find out otherwise, that’s when we have to pursue other things.”
Since the “animal sanctuary” on Hillview Drive was raided by detectives in February, the 68 dogs and more than 20 cats seized at another location have been cared for by other animal rescue groups. Many of the animals have also been taken in by local foster families.
“They are thriving in many situations and I think that’s what we want to continue for these animals,” Paul said. “We don’t want them to be put back in the environment where this abuse took place.”
According to the civil complaint, the plaintiffs allege fraud, conversion, breach of contract and unjust enrichment on the part of Crosley. Crosley’s non-profit “Wise Hearts” organization solicited donations in order to help run the animal sanctuary but did not use donations for such purposes, the civil complaint alleges.
“It really pulls at my emotions because it makes me angry. A lot of times, people treat animals as property and they are much more than property,” Hagedorn said. “They are living beings that deserve to have love and care every day.”
Not only do the animal rescue groups have a vested interest in the well-being of the animals, the groups also have a financial interest too, Paul said. VHS spent “tens of thousands” of dollars to help the abused animals, she said.
“We’re happy to spend that money but we did have to incur those costs, as did the other agencies,” Paul said. “We do not feel that its necessary for her to be rewarded by getting those animals back when all of these agencies spent all that time, money and energy on the remaining animals that she simply pushed away.”
During the hearing Thursday morning, the gallery was full of animal advocates, many of whom were clad in purple shirts. Attorneys representing the animal rescue groups said the community support is what uplifts and encourages them.
“The attorneys in this matter are donating their time pro bono (without charge),” Odoyo said. “We certainly appreciate the community standing with us in order for us to do what’s best for the dogs.”