Hearing Officer: Seizure of Burnell Horses Warranted

Jill Burnell Ordered to Stand Trial for Horse Abuse

Updated January 6, 2014
A California warmblood breeder will stand trial after being accused of neglecting her horses.

The court found there was evidence of the horses’ inadequate treatment, including that Jill Burnell’s equines were underfed.

Marin Superior Court Judge James Ritchie bound Burnell over for trial Monday. Twelve criminal counts stand against the Gray Fox Farm owner and her husband, Alex Burnell.

The judge did make one notable change when he bumped five counts of felony animal cruelty down to misdemeanor charges. He said the Burnells’ conduct did not warrant prison time. While the court found the “horses were not cared for in an appropriate manner,” the judge said he did not think the Burnells maliciously neglected the animals. Instead, Judge Ritchie said the neglect was due to financial circumstances.

It was Judge Ritchie’s last day on the bench before his retirement.

The Burnells face 5 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty, 5 misdemeanor counts of keeping an animal without proper care, and 2 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty. Both pleaded not guilty.

Attorney Maggie Weems, who represents the Burnells, says she is excited the felony counts were eliminated. “It felt good to finally get an opportunity to put on evidence of horsemanship, veterinary science and what actually happened. I hope the DA does the right thing and drops the prosecution.”

David Ramey, DVM was one of the defense’s key witnesses during the preliminary hearing. Testimony was also heard from John Madigan, DVM, MS of UC Davis Veterinary and Clair Thunes, Ph.D. of Summit Equine Nutrition on behalf of the defense.

Judge Ritchie denied the defense’s motion to suppress evidence obtained through the seizure of the horses saying the seizure was proper.

Marin Humane Society Animal Services began investigating Gray Fox Farm in the fall of 2012. Four horses were seized initially in late December. Another two were taken by the agency in January 2013. The seized horses remain in the care of animal services.

The state’s witnesses included Cameron Thompson, DVM of Sonoma Marin Veterinary and Nathan Keefer, DVM.

The Burnells are scheduled to be back in court later this month. A trial date may be scheduled at that hearing.