A four-year legal battle over the custody of the 73 horses seized by the SPCA Serving Erie County from Beth Lynn Hoskins’ farm in East Aurora for animal cruelty has been settled, according to the SPCA.
Hoskins gets to keep 35 of the seized horses and has until Oct. 30 to sell 33 others, under the settlement reached in State Supreme Court, the SPCA said Tuesday.
Five of the Morgan horses seized from Hoskins’ farm in March 2010 have died since then, reducing the total number to 68.
The settlement requires the horses be kept in a safe, sanitary location, and that their care meets guidelines based on the New York State Horse Council’s minimum standards of care, according to the SPCA.
A court-appointed inspector will make regular, ongoing inspections.
In October, Aurora Town Justice Douglas W. Marky sentenced Hoskins to three years of probation, including 500 hours of community service, and fined her $52,410 on misdemeanor animal cruelty charges.
The judge imposed the sentence after convicting her of abusing 52 of the horses, but he did not rule on the custody of the horses, leaving that decision to State Supreme Court Justice Joseph R. Glownia, who was handling the civil lawsuits filed in the case, according to the SPCA.
Barbara Carr, executive director of the SPCA, said she was satisfied with the settlement “because it speaks to the care of the horses, which is what everybody wants.”
“This settlement order is not very different from what we were hoping for days after the rescue took place,” she said in a statement.
“So many people have been involved with this case for so long. We need to be careful to maintain focus through this process,” she said.
“We need to be careful to not let angry feelings distract us from a resolution that keeps these animals safe. This isn’t our first attempt at a resolution. In four years, however, it’s the first one we felt protects the animals into the future.”
Carr questioned Marky for what she said was his failure to rule on the custody issue, and she praised Glownia for presiding over a settlement that protects the horses.
“In 21 years at the SPCA Serving Erie County, I have not seen a criminal judge fail to determine the disposition of animals in a case,” she said.
“Judge Marky, in the criminal case, chose to shift this responsibility onto Judge Glownia in the civil case, who has worked hard on this order for several months. He feels strongly that Ms. Hoskins must have custody of her horses to sell them, which is why he put together such a tight agreement.”
After the 73 horses were seized by the SPCA on March 18, 2010, 40 were eventually returned to Hoskins, leaving the SPCA with 33. But four of the horses died while in SPCA custody, leaving it with 29, and one of the 40 died while in Hoskins’ custody.
Under the settlement, the SPCA will return those 29 horses to Hoskins, leaving her with 68 horses.
She must sell 33 of the 68 horses by Oct. 30, with the first 16 to be sold or transferred by Aug. 30.
She can keep the 35 remaining horses through Oct. 16, 2016, the end of her probationary term, and beyond that date, “provided the horses are in a safe, sanitary location, and that their care meets guidelines based on the New York State Horse Council’s minimum standards of care,” according to the SPCA.
“Regular, ongoing inspections through the terms of the agreement will be made by a court-appointed inspector who, together with the court, will decide the number of employees Hoskins will be required to hire, and for a specified number of hours per week,” the SPCA said in a statement.
Carr said the SPCA spent $1.3 million on all aspects of Hoskins case, including legal costs and the cost of caring for the horses over the last four years.
She said the SPCA received monthly payments totaling $305,000 from a bond that Hoskins secured.
She added that Hoskins also has to pay the SPCA another $300,000 over a one-year period.
She said the SPCA is not out the remaining $700,000 in costs associated with the case. “It’s our job to take care of animals and it’s her job to pay some of the costs,” she said.
Gregory L. Davis, Hoskins’ attorney in the civil cases, could not be reached to comment.