Animal shelter employees subpoenaed in Virginia pet custody lawsuit

Published 4:45 pm Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Employees of the Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter will now have to appear in court and testify in a civil proceeding in Virginia as part of a lawsuit regarding custody of two dogs which were picked up by the shelter in 2016.

Animal Shelter Director Shannon Posada confirmed that she and shelter employees Wendy Mathes and Freddy Turner had been served with subpoenas requesting them to appear in Wise County Circuit Court on April 19 to testify in the case of Kimberly Buckles vs. Sandy Blanton. Animal shelter veterinarian Dr. Ashley Eisenback was also subpoenaed in the case, according to Posada.

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The case of Buckles vs. Blanton involves allegations by Buckles that her two Shih-Tzu dogs were illegally seized by the Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter and sold to another organization, which eventually adopted the animals out to Blanton.

Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey appeared in Wise County, Virginia, District Court on Feb. 22 with Buckles and testified regarding what he claims was the illegal seizure of the dogs by animal shelter staff as well as allegations that animal trafficking had occurred at the shelter under a previous director.

It was that testimony by Humphrey that led to subpoenas being issued for county employees, according to Blanton’s attorney David Bary.

“Mayor Humphrey testified under oath that the two canines did not show any signs of neglect and that the animal control seizure conducted by the Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter was ‘illegal,’” Bary said.

Bary said his client disputes Humphrey’s claim that the dogs were illegally seized from Buckles.a

“The subpoenas are related directly to the rescue of the pets,” Bary told the Elizabethton Star. Bary said he asked the court to issue subpoenas for “individuals who may have witnessed or participated in the rescue or provided care for” the two dogs.

Following the court hearing on February 22, the Wise County District court ruled in favor of Buckles, but Bary appealed the ruling on behalf of Blanton. The case is now scheduled for a de novo review on April 19 in Wise County Circuit Court. A de novo review, sometimes called the “legal error” standard, allows the appeals court to substitute its own judgment about whether or not the lower court correctly applied the law in a case.

Bary said at the hearing on April 19, the court will look at all of the issues, evidence, and testimony in the case as if it is the first hearing on the matter. Both sides will also be able to present new evidence and testimony if they choose.

The rules of evidence in the lower court are not as stringent as they are in the appellate court, Bary said, adding he believes his client will prevail in the de novo review.

After the court hearing on Feb. 22, Bary filed an open records request with Carter County to obtain copies of documents, video footage, and audio files which he said Humphrey referenced in his testimony. Bary said he has received records from the county but some of the items he was looking for were not included in the records sent to him.

The Elizabethton Star filed a public records request with Carter County on March 21 seeking copies of the records sent to Bary. As of close of business on March 27 the Elizabethton Star had not received those records.