The Kauai Humane Society is asking the court to recuse Prosecuting Attorney Shaylene Carvalho-Iseri from the animal cruelty case against Lara Butler-Brady because she has become personally involved.
The motion filed in Circuit Court yesterday claims that Iseri-Carvalho intends to dismiss the case, which is set for trial March 11, because the agency will not fire Jessica Venneman, who investigated the alleged abuse and neglect of Brady-Butler's horses.
In a declaration, KHS Executive Director Shannon Blizzard detailed attempts by Iseri-Carvalho to have Venneman disciplined or terminated following a personal run-in between the two women this past January.
It all started when Venneman checked out a barking dog complaint involving a man who reportedly is Iseri-Carvalho's cousin and married to a woman who works in the prosecutor's office. When Venneman tried to get the man to license his dogs, tensions escalated. He reportedly called Iseri-Carvalho, who in turn called Venneman, resulting in a heated conversation between the two women.
Iseri-Carvalho later complained to Blizzard about Venneman, saying she had lied and also had insulted her by implying she was seeking preferential treatment for the man. In further discussions, KHS staff said they felt Iseri-Carvalho was making it clear that her decision about whether to proceed with the horse abuse case hinged on Venneman's termination.
Prior to the run-in, the prosecutor's office had assured KHS the case was good and winnable, and no mention had been made of dropping it, the motion states. But after the incident, Iseri-Carvalho sent Blizzard the following email, which threw the trial in doubt:
I just was handed a letter dated February 24, 2012 that was addressed to Marla Torres-Lam regarding Lara Butler-Brady's trial. As you already know, we have made numerous exceptions in this matter which our office can no longer afford to do. The OPA never authorized any witnessed back from the Mainland for a misdemeanor case, except this case. We agree this is a very important case. For this reason, it is extremely rare that we have an experienced felony deputy utilize her experience on a misdemeanor case when she has almost 100 serious heinous felony cases that total thousands of criminal counts. This is a huge exception. We have expended thousands and thousands of dollars. We have limited resources. My office has bent over backwards to accommodate your needs. You have been made aware of the credibility of one of the main witnesses that directly affect the integrity of this office's reputation. We will not bringing Dr. Rhodes back and cannot in ethical conscience proceed when you have not resolved the issues regarding your employee. (emphasis added in court documents). This information has already been provided to you in person at our last meeting.
The motion filed by KHS contends that a special prosecutor is warranted because Iseri-Carvalho is failing to prosecute crimes as the county charter requires, and has not cited proper reasons for her intent to dismiss the case:
Instead, the prosecutor states two justifications for her decision to dismiss the case — money and her dispute with the investigator.... Neither of these two reasons appear in the [American Bar Association] guidelines regarding dismissal of criminal prosecutions. Indeed, cost is not an issue, as movant Humane Society has already secured financial commitments necessary to secure the presence of necessary witnesses at trial. Thus this prosecution will “cost” no more than any “standard” prosecution of sixteen counts of cruelty to animals. This leaves the other reason the prosecutor refused to prosecute these crimes against animals — she is concerned with her office's reputation if she prosecutes a case in which she has accused an investigator of misrepresenting a totally unrelated conversation, a year and a half after the subject violation.
Movant suggests the appointment of a special prosecutor provides the best assurance that animal cruelty will not go unprosecuted and the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney will have its reputation left intact.
The court documents outline another recent incident in which Iseri-Carvalho contacted Blizzard to say that Renie Judd, who works in the prosecutor's office, wanted to make a trespassing complaint against Venneman for coming onto her property. Venneman had left water for dogs owned by Darren Judd, the woman's husband, as she has several times in the past. KHS staff felt it was intended as more pressure to terminate Venneman.
The documents also include details of a telephone conversation between deputy prosecutor Melinda Mendes, who is handling the horse abuse case, and Blizzard. During the call, Blizzard states, Mendes noticed an email from Iseri-Carvalho:
There was panic in her voice, as she thought she had just been fired. Ms. Mendes …. read the email, “I, and other people, have issues with Jessica and the reputation of this office. If you do not agree with us, this might not be the right office for you.”
Blizzard also tells of a Feb. 23 phone conversation with Mendes, who relayed that Iseri-Carvalho planned to dismiss the case the day of the trial:
Ms. Mendes asked Ms. Iseri-Carvalo what their grounds were for dropping the case. Ms. Iseri-Carvalho said Ms. Mendes would state she is not prepared to go to trial and request the case be dismissed. Ms Mendes told me she was not going to take the fall on this case. She said she would not be “fucked over.”
In her affidavit, KHS Board President Elizabeth Frietas recounted a Feb. 10 meeting she attended with Mendes, Blizzard and Orianna Skomoroch of KHS to discuss a possible plea deal with Butler-Brady. At the meeting, Mendes reportedly said she did not have any problems with Venneman's actions. Frietas went on to recount:
Ms. Mendes said she wanted to have a conversation with us that was “off the record.” She said if we repeated this she would be fired.
Ms. Mendes said she had no idea what Ms. Iseri-Carvalho was going to do but that she was concerned. She is hoping this is not over a “personal vendetta.”
Ms. Mendes said she was working very hard on this plea deal because she was not sure what her boss was going to do and it worried her.
Ms. Mendes thought that Ms. Iseri-Carvalho should conflict out.
In addition to the appointment of a special prosecutor, the Humane Society also is seeking pre-trial forfeiture of 16 horses seized from Brady-Butler's pastures “to ensure the horses are adequately protected.” KHS has cared for the horses since May 2010, incurring costs of about $70,000. It also filed an exparte motion asking for an expedited hearing.