“Bengal” (center) is among the wild animals that Kerr County authorities contend that Amy Tuma (right) and her husband Clint have failed to register properly. ZEKE MACCORMACKemail@example.com
KERRVILLE — In the latest courtroom clash over an Ingram-area animal shelter that Kerr County Attorney Rob Henneke has fought since June to close, a judge declined Wednesday to fine or jail shelter officials and lawyers accused of contempt.
A December trial is slated in the lawsuit that Henneke filed in a bid to force Clint and Amy Tuma to comply with county rules for keeping wild and dangerous animals.
The Tumas contend they’re exempt from its rules by virtue of incorporating as an animal shelter called Hatari Safari. Even so, they later applied for a county permit and were denied.
Their defense is cast as legal fiction by Henneke who, if he prevails at trial, plans to seek civil penalties against the Tumas of up to $2,000 per animal per day of violation.
At Wednesday’s pretrial hearing, Henneke claimed the Tumas violated court orders in August by adding a bobcat to the menagerie at their home off Texas 27 that already included three cougars, two tigers and a bear.
State District Judge Rex Emerson likened getting the bobcat to the Tumas throwing gas on a fire, but said he couldn’t sanction them because the 4th Court of Appeals had stayed his two orders that directed the Tumas to remove their wild animals.
Henneke also wanted the Tumas sanctioned for refusing to produce records on Clint Tuma’s work as a professional hunting guide, which defense lawyers called immaterial to the shelter dispute.
Henneke said videos of “X-rated kill shots” from Tuma hunts would let jurors see “the real picture” of the couple who have spoken of giving sanctuary to old, sick and abandoned animals.
Tuma lawyer April Lucas said the video should be barred as evidence because “it’s sought basically to try to prejudice people (on the jury.)”
Emerson agreed, telling Henneke, “Just because they run two different businesses doesn’t mean they’re Jekyll and Hyde.”
He cautioned Henneke about casually seeking sanctions, but denied a motion from Lucas and co-counsel Emily Frost to be reimbursed for legal expenses incurred defending themselves against Henneke’s contempt motions.
Among the spectators were Tuma neighbors Mary Alice and Emilio Valdez, who say they now carry a gun when they’re outdoors due to fear of being mauled.
“It’s like living next door to terrorists,” said Mary Alice Valdez, 63. “You don’t know when you’re going to be attacked.”
In 2009 they hired Henneke’s father, former County Judge Fred Henneke, to represent them in a dispute over a fence the Tumas planned to construct.
The Tumas, who weren’t present at the hearing, contend that history creates a conflict of interest for Rob Henneke in the shelter case. Rob Henneke said outside court that he has no conflict of interest.
Separate from the suit, the county has issued 30 misdemeanor citations to the Tumas for housing unregistered wild animals.