New Judge Named in Leachman Cruelty Case

A new judge has been named to preside over the animal cruelty case against a Montana rancher accused of neglecting hundreds of horses.

In December 2010 a herd of 450 horses were residing on 9,400 acres of deeded land and 30,000 acres of leased Crow Tribal land southeast of Billings, Mont., with scant forage and no water source. Several horses were also discovered dead on the property.

The horses' owner, James H. Leachman, was later charged with a total of 16 charges of misdemeanor animal cruelty for negligently failing to provide veterinary care, food, or water to helpless animals. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

In March, members of the Crow Tribe gathered the surviving horses from the leased tribal lands on which they were located. Those animals were later sold at auction where Leachman's son, Seth Leachman, successfully bid on 66 horses. James Leachman later paid for the horses. Those horses were placed on Indian Trust Land leased by the elder Leachman.

On April 20, during a hearing before Justice of the Peace Pedro Hernandez, prosecutors argued that the horses located on that property had to trespass onto neighboring properties in order to access water resources. During that court proceeding Hernandez ordered Seth Leachman to remove the horses from the property on which they were located.

On April 28 Seth Leachman filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Billings, alleging that Hernandez did not have jurisdiction to issue the order.

The following day, prosecutors later filed a motion requesting that the justice of the peace remove himself from the James Leachman animal cruelty case, which Hernandez later did. The motion was made to avoid the appearance of impropriety if Hernandez remained on the case while the federal lawsuit was pending against him.

Senior Deputy County Attorney for Yellowstone County Ingrid Rosenquist said that Yellowstone County Justice of the Peace Larry Herman took over the case on May 16. Leachman has been ordered to appear before Herman on May 25 for a status hearing in the case, Rosenquist said.

Meanwhile, the Montana Department of Livestock has charged James Leachman with violating state livestock laws by allowing a stallion to run free on the leased property where the horses Seth Leachman purchased are located.

"The (charge) is a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $500 fine," Rosenquist said.

James Leachman is representing himself on the charges. He 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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