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Advocates push for permanent animal cruelty prosecutors

Wednesday, June 15, 2016 by Vicky Garza

The Travis County District Attorney’s Office has assigned two prosecutors to handle animal cruelty cases after a family and animal law attorney made the case for a special animal cruelty prosecutor to the Animal Advisory Commission last month during citizens communication.

However, the animal law attorney, Robyn Katz, sat again before the commission on Monday – this time as an official presentation item – to ask for its support to either make these positions permanent or create a new animal cruelty division.

She is concerned that these prosecutors — a chief and a prosecutor with other cases — are not dedicated solely to animal cruelty cases and may have other cases that may take priority, such as murder.

“We are supposedly the animal haven of Texas, if not the country … yet we have been – up until a few days ago – the only major city/county in Texas that does not have this prosecutorial position,” said Katz.

Katz was a prosecutor of family violence and animal cruelty in the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office and has worked in the Harris County District Attorney’s Office Animal Cruelty Division.

Sgt. Joaquin Perez of the Austin Police Department appeared alongside Katz to share some statistics. In 2015, 890 cases of animal cruelty were reported and 47 warrants filed. The numbers were higher in 2014, with 1,043 cases and 49 warrants filed. In 2013, there were 840 cases and 24 warrants.

“We agree that a special prosecutor for animal cruelty would be a huge help for us, especially in getting these cases prosecuted,” said Perez.

Katz said that some of the cases filed as felonies end up getting pleaded down to a Class C misdemeanor, which doesn’t show up as an animal cruelty charge because it is low-priority.

While compelled, the commissioners were hesitant to take any action without allowing some time to see how the new arrangement at the county attorney’s office plays out.

“I hate stalling on things like this,” said Commissioner Lisa Mitchell. But, she continued, “it would be wise to wait.”

David Lundstedt, chair of the commission, agreed that it was premature to take action with the addition of the two county appointees. “I didn’t come to this meeting to make a motion tonight, but I’d like to get more information,” he said.

The commission took no action but asked for Katz and Perez to return in a few months with an update.

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