Thursday, July 3, 2014

Village Administrator Responds to Comments by JAC Attorney

South Orange Village Administrator Barry R. Lewis, Jr. sent attorney William Strazza, who is representing the Jersey Animal Coalition, a letter on Thursday regarding recent comments made by Strazza to local media.  Strazza had accused the village of animal cruelty, among other accusations, in his statement.

"Your decision to use vitriolic and demonstrably untrue accusations in the press in an effort to politicize and spin this serious matter is extremely disconcerting", Lewis said. 

The shelter managed by JAC off of Walton Avenue in South Orange has been closed and under quarantine since March. The village announced this week that JAC's lease with the village has been revoked, and that JAC must leave the shelter by July 9.  

In the letter, Lewis wrote that Strazza had requested that the quarantine be lifted because of an affidavit of JAC veterinarian of record Dr. Michael Santiago. Lewis responded by saying that "this affidavit does not in any way address most of the conditions precedent to the lifting of the quarantine, which were very specifically set forth in the Health Officer’s April 21st letter". Lewis restated the conditions in his letter, and said that the "village is and always has been prepared to immediately review any information submitted and conduct necessary inspections to confirm compliance with these conditions and, upon such confirmation, lift the quarantine".

In addition, Lewis claimed that despite Strazza stating that the village was in possession of health certificates, "this statement is categorically and demonstrably untrue". Plus, Lewis mentioned that despite Strazza denying allegations against JAC to the media, Strazza allegedly wrote that JAC has not met the lease obligation to provide annual financial statements.

"In summary, posturing in the newspapers is counter-productive, particularly when the positions stated are not based in fact and are clearly intended to spin the story and portray the Village as the cause of the problems", Lewis wrote.

Lewis concluded by saying that "the Village remains committed to working with the JAC to address these issues, but cannot do anything unless and until the JAC takes action and notifies us of the corrective actions and compliance with the Lease obligations. However, as noted above, your seeming preference to air these disputes in the press with spurious accusations and deliberate ignoring of the facts does little to further this process in any productive way and will have no impact on the Village’s commitment to fairly and objectively enforcing the applicable regulations to ensure the safety of the animals".

South Orange has charged JAC with over 80 violations, and JAC has pleaded not guilty to all charges. A trial will be set in August should an agreement not be reached between the prosecution and the defense.

In an email to Essex County Place, former JAC volunteer Gale Petrecca said "We, the volunteers and followers of the case are all furious about Strazza's coy remarks, he claims he doesn't want to try the case in the press but that is exactly what he is now doing. He is just a mouthpiece for the JAC Director, spewing rhetoric and untruths. I hope they pay him well for making a fool of himself in the press. How do you know when Strazza is lying? His mouth is moving."

Strazza did not respond to requests for comment regarding the letter.

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