National Humane Group Files Brief in Michigan Horse Abuse Case

The American Humane Association (AHA) has filed an amicus brief with the Michigan Court of Appeals in connection with a controversial animal cruelty case involving Matt Mercier and James Henderson Jr., of Grass Lake, a move that is designed to provide background information or perspective that might contribute to a court decision.

Mercier and Henderson were charged with felony animal torture charges and one count of misdemeanor animal abuse in March 2007 after authorities seized 69 horses owned by Henderson from a ranch operated by Mercier. Those charges were dropped in April 2008 when Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Chad C. Schmucker ruled that neither intended to harm the horses. The AHA filed the brief after the Michigan Court of Appeals agreed to hear arguments that felony charges be reinstated. Misdemeanor charges are still pending.

Jackson County Chief Appellate Attorney Jerrold Schrotenboer said the brief, filed on Aug. 18, does not speak to specifics of the case, nor the individuals involved. "The brief gives the court information to consider the case in a different light," he said. "My case is about Michigan's animal cruelty law and how it is applied. The brief gives a national perspective."

Amicus briefs, often called "friend of the court" briefs, which contain relevant matter not already brought to the attention of the Court, are commonly filed in connection with appeals cases. Individuals or groups filing such briefs must not be directly connected with the case, but must have knowledge or perspective of value to the court.

According to Allie Phillips, AHA director of Public Policy, the brief addresses directly the intent portion of Michigan's animal cruelty statute. "Michigan law speaks to general--not specific--intent," she said.

However, Henderson's attorney, Michael Dungan, said the brief contains no new information.

"I didn't see anything different from the prosecution's case," Dungan said. "I don't think it will make a difference in both the civil or criminal case."

Phillips said she became aware of the case via the Michigan Bar Association, for which she is a council member. She consulted with Schrotenboer before filing the brief. "The American Humane Association will never insert itself into a case without first talking with local prosecutors," she said.

The Michigan Bar Association's Animal Law section has also entered a motion to file an amicus brief regarding the case, Schrotenboer said. Details were unavailable.

Mercier's attorney, Susan Meinsberg, was unavailable for comment.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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