AUGUSTA — An attorney for the owners of horses, dogs, pigs and goats seized from Fair Play Farm in Clinton last June says the state waited too long — 145 days longer than the law permits — to seek possession of the animals.

David Van Dyke, who represents five people whose animals are temporarily in state custody, has asked the judge to dismiss the civil case.

Van Dyke raised the issue after Dr. Christine Fraser, veterinarian with the state’s Animal Welfare Program, spent a day and a half testifying in Kennebec County Superior Court about the condition of 15 horses, two dogs, four goats and two pigs seized June 3, 2010, by state animal welfare agents.

“The only problem is that, if you take an animal, you have to file an application for possession within three days,” Van Dyke said. “They waited 148 days.”

The seizure resulted in prosecutors filing criminal animal-cruelty charges against farm owners Brett and Alexis Ingraham.

Those charges remain pending. The Ingrahams have pleaded not guilty and maintained their farm took in injured or malnourished animals that otherwise would have been euthanized.

The civil case is filed against the Ingrahams and five other people who owned some of the seized animals.

District Attorney Evert Fowle said Tuesday the state would file arguments maintaining it followed the proper procedure for filing a writ of possession, and that it was brought at the appropriate time.

“Our main focus is making sure these animals aren’t put back in the environment we found them in, and we will do everything we can do to protect them,” Fowle, whose office is prosecuting the case. “We are proceeding on two different fronts to make sure that happens.

“Ultimately, the issues will be decided in the criminal trial. We initiated this matter with the execution of a criminal search warrant.”

The state sought ownership of the animals in the civil case, saying they were seized “because of diseased, dehydrated, and malnourished conditions and the owner had cruelly abandoned them or cruelly treated them within the meaning of Title 17 MRSA subsection 1021.”

The statute says, “Within 3 working days of possession of the animal, the humane agent or the state veterinarian shall apply to the court for a possession order. Upon good cause shown, the court shall expedite the case and schedule a prehearing conference to take place within 7 days of the seizure. The court shall set a hearing date and that hearing date must be within 21 days of the date the animal was seized.”

Van Dyke said he asked Fraser about 15 questions to confirm the timetable before telling the judge the case was untimely and asking for the dismissal.

Justice Michaela Murphy halted the hearing and gave Van Dyke and Assistant District Attorney Paul Rucha until Friday to brief the court on the issue. Van Dyke filed his argument on Tuesday.

Van Dyke’s filing says records show the animals were taken June 3, 2010. The state applied for permanent custody or possession of the animals on Oct. 29, 2010, and a hearing was set for Jan. 27, 2011.

Van Dyke also has prepared a civil rights violation claim against state animal welfare officials which he plans to file in federal court.

“What they did by seizing the animals on June 3 and holding them 147 days and fattening them up was a deprivation of property without due process,” Van Dyke said. “They used that 148-day delay to build the case unfairly despite repeated demands for the return of the animals.”

Prior to filing that lawsuit, he said he planned to send a copy of it to the Maine Office of the Attorney General in an attempt to resolve the matter.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

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