Judge to review dismissal motion in horse cruelty case

LIHU‘E — A 5th Circuit judge is considering a dismissal motion in a horse cruelty case as an attorney general’s appointed prosecutor takes over.

Sheri Lawson was present for her first hearing as a Special Deputy Attorney General in the misdemeanor 16-count cruelty to animals case against Lara Butler-Brady. After an 90 minute flight, her first hearing lasted just minutes as the judge continued the matter to April 16.

Lawson is a Hawai‘i County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney. She is the State Attorney General’s appointed prosecutor to replace the Kaua‘i County Prosecuting Attorney’s office after its motion to recuse itself for a potential conflict of interest was approved on March 8.

The case remains in the 5th Circuit with Chief Judge Randal Valenciano presiding. He granted the prosecution’s motion to withdraw when the Attorney General agreed to accept the case that goes to trial on May 29.

Defense counsel Craig De Costa represents Butler-Brady. His motion to dismiss the case for violating her right to a speedy trial was moved to April 19 after arguments, to allow the judge to review files that arrived just before the hearing.

DeCosta argued that Rule 48 of the Hawai’i Rules of Penal Procedure and the constitutional right to a speedy trial was violated. He presented four continuance periods since 2010 that he said are charged to the state and collectively exceed the 180-day limit.

Lawson argued that continuances related to motions for compelling evidence and to determine fitness for trial are not charged to the prosecutor and should be excluded.

Valenciano pointed out that references to a recent Hawai‘i Supreme Court ruling called “The Buono Decision,” is a Rule 48 case that originated in 5th Circuit Court. He said it would take time to review the arguments and continued the hearing.

In a January decision, the Supreme Court upheld an Appeals Court decision in the State versus Jon Buono and said local courts could not cite court congestion for setting a trial date beyond 180 days after the initiation of a criminal case, said Jake Deleplane of the Kaua‘i County Prosecutors Office. The court must show it exhausted all measures to keep a trial within the time limit.

The result is that now two felony courtrooms in the 5th Circuit are setting up for four felony jury trials simultaneously, with lower court judges presiding over additional trials, Deleplane said.

Before this decision, only two jury trials could occur at one time.

In the Butler-Brady case, the judge will determine whether motions are charged to the prosecution or to the defense. A continuance could also be considered granted for good cause and could be charged to either side.

Butler-Brady is charged with 16 counts of cruelty to animals in a 2010 case involving horses on the 165-acre Keapana Horsemanship riding stable in Hanama‘ulu. The horses were declared emaciated by the Humane Society after complaints were filed and Butler-Brady was indicted on July 13, 2010.

The horses remain in protective custody and are maintained by the Humane Society at its Puhi shelter and through some privately owned land.

If found guilty, Butler-Brady faces a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

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