UPDATED -- MAPLEWOOD, NJ – The Jersey Animal Coalition’s attorney entered a not guilty plea in municipal court today on behalf of the shelter on each of the 51 health code violations found during a joint local and state health inspection last month.
The violations ranged from minor infractions such as improper storage of cleaning materials to serious health risks including failure to provide sick animals with basic veterinary care and to clean the shelter and its grounds of fecal matter.
The conditions in the shelter also prompted the village inspector to call the New Jersey SPCA to report possible animal cruelty. No report has been issued yet by the SPCA.
“In regards to the original 51 violations, we are pleading not guilty because the Jersey Animal Coalition does not believe that the violations actually exist,” said Bill Strazza, attorney for the JAC.
Ruth Perlmutter, president of the shelter’s executive board, did not appear but is the representative officer for the nonprofit group. As the defendant in the Coalition as an entity, Perlmutter does not currently face any personal liability.
Several former volunteers in attendance let out audible sighs of disappointment when the plea was entered.
“Of course they’re going to plead not guilty,” said one volunteer who asked to remain anonymous. “That’s not surprising anybody.”
The state was given until May 15 to file a response. The case is in the discovery phase until the conference hearing, which was set for June 17.
No trial date has been set yet.
“These are very serious charges, and there are many of them, so they need to be taken seriously,” Judge Jonathan Rosenbluth said.
The JAC operates the animal shelter in South Orange, which serves as the intake shelter for animal control in South Orange and Maplewood. The shelter has been closed since the inspection.
NOTE: This version of the story corrects the name of the JAC attorney and adds information about the discovery phase of the case.
The reporter is a student participating in hyperlocal journalism partnership between The Alternative Press and Seton Hall University's Department of Communication & The Arts.