Government South Orange Towns

Updated: Judge Rules JAC Can Reopen — Temporarily

Updated 4:48 p.m. July 7, 2014: A Superior Court ruled today to temporarily lift a quarantine on the Jersey Animal Coalition animal shelter and halt eviction proceedings ordered by the Village of South Orange.

The ruling by Judge Dennis F. Carey III comes after the JAC filed lawsuit against the town this morning.

In a civil suit filed by JAC attorney William Strazza with the Superior Court of New Jersey in Essex County, the JAC asked for “emergent relief” from the town’s actions.

The judge’s ruling is a temporary action, according to Village Administrator Barry Lewis. Another hearing has been set for Monday morning, July 14, at which time the judge will hear arguments from both the JAC and the village. (The hearing has since been moved to August 20.)

The suit today was filed on behalf of Ruth Perlmutter, President of the JAC, and the JAC. Former JAC President Robert Barenbach, the Village of South Orange, the South Orange Department of Health, the Board of Health and administrative staffers Barry Lewis, Adam Loehner and John Festa are named as defendants.

Reached via phone this evening, Village Administrator Barry Lewis said that the ruling was “only in place until Monday” and that “ultimately the documents from the JAC will be shown to be full of false allegations.” In the meantime special counsel for the village is reviewing the documents from the JAC and preparing a response from the village.

In particular, Lewis said that the JAC, contrary to its court filing, never asked for an inspection — something that the village suggested on numerous occasions in writing.

Last week, the battle between the town and the shelter devolved into a war of words.

Strazza accused South Orange of “animal cruelty” and an “improper underlying motive” for refusing to lift the quarantine that has been in place on the JAC since March.

Township officials fired back with a letter deploring Strazza’s accusations as “vitriolic” and “demonstrably untrue.”

The shelter has been closed since the township issued the quarantine for what officials said were more than 50 health code violations. The Village then discovered the JAC also had various leasing and personnel violations, said Deputy Administrator Adam Loehner.

On June 27, the Village sent the JAC a letter stating it had ten days to resolve the issues before eviction proceedings would be initiated on July 9.

In an email announcing the lawsuit, Perlmutter wrote, “The Jersey Animal Coalition takes great pride in serving the residents of South Orange and Maplewood at no cost.  The Board, our staff, and all our volunteers want nothing more than to continue that service, save the lives of animals and find them loving homes.”

Perlmutter continued, “Due to our dedication to public service and to no kill sheltering, today, we are filing suit against South Orange and we thank the public for all the support we have received in this difficult time.”

The Village Green has reached out to Perlmutter for further comment.

At the June 16 South Orange Board of Trustees meeting, several residents spoke out against conditions at the JAC over several years. Former JAC board member Jennifer Hart said that she had taken her eyewitness complaints to the JAC board and leadership concerning rodents and animals left in cages too long. For her efforts, she said that she was accused of lying and met with hostility from leadership.

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