First on Essex County Place: The Jersey Animal Coalition (JAC), which operates South Orange and Maplewood's only animal shelter, pled not guilty to over 50 charges on Tuesday at South Orange Municipal Court in Maplewood. The shelter was placed under quarantine by the South Orange Department of Health following an inspection by village and state health officials on March 12. JAC president and founder Ruth Perlmutter, who was not present at the hearing, had also been facing two separate charges dating back to February. However, South Orange Municipal Court Judge Jonathan H. Rosenbluth dismissed those charges in court. Judge Rosenbluth said that Perlmutter will now be considered an officer of JAC in court, and therefore faces no personal liability.
When asked in court by Judge Rosenbluth, attorney William Strazza, who is representing JAC, said the animals who live at the JAC Shelter are being cared for. Several former volunteers who appeared at court were doubtful of that statement. One former volunteer, who asked that she not be named, told Essex County Place that "they (JAC) said that the animals are doing good. Unless they've doubled their staff in six weeks, the animals aren't doing good". The former volunteers said that the shelter has been closed multiple times before, but never for this long. "We're concerned about the animals", said Roslyn Dreydoppel, "it is a filthy shelter".
Some of the former volunteers claimed that the village knew about the alleged problem and had not taken sufficient action until now. "The town ignored it for years...the state was tipped off", said a former volunteer, who asked that she not be identified, "It should have been closed years ago".
South Orange Municipal Prosecutor Gracia Robert Montilus spoke to a few of the former volunteers after the hearing. One of the former volunteers called the not guilty plea "a disgrace". Montilus said that the charges are "extremely egregious", and said that he is planning a meeting for volunteers who say that they have witnessed the alleged violations.
Judge Rosenbluth said that these are "very serious charges...(with)...very serious consequences". The case will now enter the discovery stage. JAC must respond by May 13, and the prosecution must respond by June 17. Judge Rosenbluth said that a conference will be held on June 17 to discuss "issues as to the operation (of the shelter)".
The JAC Shelter remains under quarantine, however the former volunteers stressed that the shelter is in need of donations, especially food, towels, litter, and cleaning supplies.