CREATED Oct. 17, 2012 - UPDATED: Oct. 18, 2012
LEE COUNTY - A Lee County judge coming under fire, accused of being soft on people accused of animal cruelty. The latest case has one rescue group calling on voters to oust the judge. Four in your Corner investigator Mike Mason digging into this one tonight.
Lee County Judge Frank Mann, Jr. is blamed for dismissing animal cruelty charges against one woman even though county officials felt they had a good case against her. Now that has some taking action.
Louise Hawthorne: "When she came she could hardly walk."
"Reggie" has come a long way in the past few months. Her name is short for Regina. She's a 10 year old Golden Retriever mix. She's deaf and still needs to gain a few pounds but overall she's in good health. Louise Hawthorne adopted Reggie after her owners brought her to Lee County Animal Services to be put to sleep.
Louise Hawthorne: "It made me feel good that I could help her through that terrible, terrible time and prevent her from being euthanized."
On June 27th, animal service officers say Moira Woods brought Reggie to their office saying she needed to be put out of her misery. These photos show how emaciated Reggie was, she also had a horrible skin condition and was itching constantly.
Laura Chavarria: "Hair loss, oral hematoma, just looked uncomfortable, extremely, extremely thin and its skin looked like elephant skin."
Instead of euthanizing Reggie, officers kept the dog and charged Woods with animal cruelty. The case went to court on August 14th in front of Lee County Judge Frank Mann Jr. The county called 3 witnesses to testify against Woods; their head vet who examined Reggie, the office manager who issued the citation to Woods and a rescue worker who helped find Reggie a new home. But they say they never got a chance to make their case.
Laura Chavarria: "While I was in mid sentence I was cut off by Judge Mann and he basically told me to get to the point, so I wasn't able to even show any pictures and when we offered to show them to him he didn't look at them."
Mike Mason: "Okay so he cuts you off mid sentence, then what happens?"
Laura Chavarria: "Then he goes to Miss Woods and says, “Do you have any proof that you provided care?” She provided a receipt I think from a couple of months before we took the dog in from Walmart for flea treatment and he said, ‘You seem like a responsible pet owner’."
Mike Mason: "That was it?"
Laura Chavarria: "That was it, he threw the case out."
Charges against Woods were then dismissed and the case closed. Rescue worker, Mark Dahlberg, was so upset he wrote a letter to Judge Mann stating: "Seldom have I seen as clear cut an example of long term neglect....pet owners, pet advocates, rescue groups and Humane Societies will not forget the additional neglect Reggie was dealt from your bench."
Dahlberg even designed magnets saying: "Mann is not dog's best friend. Vote out Judge Mann"
Mark Dahlberg: "The magnets that you've seen was just my kind of little protest to the fact that I didn't agree with how the process worked, I didn't agree with how Reggie was treated."
For the past three days we've called Judge Mann's office to get his side of the story. We spoke with his secretary and she promised to deliver the message but Mann never called us back.
Officers with Lee County Animal Services say this isn't the first time Judge Mann has thrown out animal abuse charges and, as a result, they feel pets are becoming victimized all over again.
Laura Chavarria: "Every time he would say something, even in prior cases that I had that day, he would say, 'Well, I'm not used to doing animal cases, I don't like the way that this ordinance was written' and would throw them out. We need the support of the judicial system to be able to do our job, absolutely."
Mike Mason: "And did you get it?"
Laura Chavarria: "No."
Judge Mann won't be up for re-election until 2017, so for the next 5 years Dahlberg says he plans to continue educating the public about Mann's rulings.