by Danny Jacobs,
Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer
(This article first appeared in the August 4 edition of The Daily Record; reprinted with permission of The Daily Record.)
Judge Robert J. Steinberg initially thought he would not give jail time to a Baltimore County lawyer and his wife who were charged with neglecting their three horses, one fatally. But after hearing Hilton and Donna Silver speak before their sentencing Tuesday, Steinberg changed his mind.
“I haven’t heard and didn’t hear any remorse,” the state District Court judge said. “I think they need a wake-up call. I don’t think they understand.”
So, in addition to ordering probation and more than $10,000 in restitution, Steinberg sentenced both Silvers to three consecutive weekends in jail–“one for each horse,” he said.
The Silvers were charged with three counts of animal cruelty in March. Prosecutors dropped two counts Tuesday in a plea agreement with the couple, who acknowledged the evidence was sufficient to convict them.
Following the hearing, prosecutor Adam Lippe said Hilton Silver’s case would likely be referred to the Attorney Grievance Commission. Silver, a Baltimore County solo practitioner, has been licensed in Maryland for nearly 25 years without any record of public discipline, according to the commission’s records. Glenn M. Grossman, deputy bar counsel, said the case “certainly can be and should be referred to our office.”
County police and animal control went to the Silvers’ Windsor Mill home in March after receiving a call about a horse lying under a tarp for five days, a police report said. Veterinarian Elizabeth Klebe arrived and described the gray mare as 400 to 500 pounds underweight, sitting in its own fecal matter and unable to lift its head, according to court documents.
Hilton Silver, in the police report and in court, said the 27-year-old mare fell down and he was unable to get her up. The Silvers said they could not afford euthanasia, and Hilton Silver had called a neighbor who declined to shoot the horse, the police report said.
Klebe performed the euthanasia that day because of the mare’s “distress,” even though the Silvers said they could not afford to pay her in $10 monthly installments, according to court documents.
The other horses, a chestnut Arabian and bay Arabian, were visibly underweight, with cracked hooves and burrs in their manes, according to the police report. Another veterinarian later rated them as a 1.5 and a 3.5 on the Henneke scale, which is used to classify a horse’s condition; a rating of 5 is considered ideal.
Animal control warned the Silvers the Arabian horses could be taken away and gave the couple advice on proper care, Lippe said Tuesday. But officers seized the horses several days later when their condition had not changed, he said.
The Silvers “were warned; they knew better and they decided they didn’t care,” said Lippe, an assistant state’s attorney.
The horses have since lived at Days End Farm Horse Rescue in Woodbine, Lippe said. The county has spent at least $10,000 caring for the horses so far, and they will be sold to new owners for $25 each, he added.
Jay Fred Cohen, Hilton Silver’s lawyer, said Donna Silver owned and cared for the horses. Robert N. Winkler, Donna Silver’s lawyer, said she has a history of severe depression. All four argued the Silvers were in financial straits and were trying to find help for their horses between the animal control visits.
In court, a stoic Hilton Silver passed notes to Cohen and interrupted Cohen’s argument to claim Lippe’s statement of facts was not what Silver agreed to, drawing a rebuke from Steinberg.
Donna Silver, by contrast, sat with her head in her hands and spoke in turn, primarily between sobs.
“I would have given everything I had to them,” she said at one point.
“All evidence to the contrary, do you expect me to believe that?” Steinberg asked.
“God understands, and if you don’t, I’m sorry,” she replied.
Steinberg ordered the Silvers to pay Klebe $275 for the euthanasia and the county $9,950 for the care of the surviving horses.
“It’s beyond mere neglect. It’s a complete disregard for the welfare of these animals,” he said.