On Friday, June 18, 2011, 34 counts of criminal neglect were filed against Marsha Parkinson of Canterbury Farms in Centreville, Maryland.

In April, authorities euthanized 6 and impounded 140 malnourished Polish Arabians at the Eastern Shore breeding farm.

On May 25, a replevin hearing was held, at which Parkinson petitioned the court to have the horses be returned to her, arguing that the county had unlawfully impounded the horses. Testifying on behalf of the State were Dave MacGlashan, director of Animal Services, and Dr. Michael Forney of Chestertown. Judge Douglas H. Everngam denied Parkinson’s request. (For an in-depth report of the hearing, see the Kent Island Bay Times June 1 article.)

According to Queen Anne’s State’s Attorney Lance Richardson, the state then attempted to work with Parkinson to have her voluntarily relinquish ownership of the horses. Parkinson apparently refused the state’s terms, and the state proceeded to file criminal charges.

Each count is a misdemeanor, which would carry if convicted, a maximum of 90 days in jail. If convicted on all 34 counts, Parkinson could face 3,060 days in jail, or 8.5 years (unless the judge decided to allow the sentences to be served concurrently). This would have a significant impact on Parkinson’s life and she would probably have to resort to contacting Real Jobs For Felons for help finding work upon her release, as there is no way she would be able to continue her equine career.

Richardson plans to file three more charges, with up to 33 counts of neglect in each charging document, until all neglected horses have been covered. Richardson estimates that Parkinson could eventually have as many as 134 counts of misdemeanor neglect filed against her.

When asked why felony cruelty charges were not filed (for which some in the community have lobbied), Richardson explained that such charges were not appropriate as the state does not believe that Parkinson intended to be cruel to the horses, which is the prerequisite for felony cruelty charges. The misdemeanor charges are for neglect, for failing to provide adequate food and veterinary care as defined by Maryland’s minimum standards of care law (see equiery.com for a link to and interpretation of this law).

According to the Baltimore Sun, the trial has been schedule for July 27, 2011. However, this could end up being an usual case with a later trail date, according to Richardson. Parkinson can enter a plea prior to the trial date or wait for the trial to plead.

Meanwhile, Days End Horse Rescue, which is overseeing the management of the horses after the impoundment and pending the resolution of the trial, has been bombarded by requests to adopt the horses. However, the horses are not available for adoption until ownership of the horses is determined. Parkinson has indicated that she wants the horses back, so unless she voluntarily relinquishes ownership, the criminal charges must first be resolved. If and when Parkinson is found or pleads guilty of neglect (and remember, in the United States, a defendant is considered innocent until proven guilty), then the state can proceed with attempting to sever ownership. There have been cases of horse owners being convicted of neglect, but under certain conditions being allowed to reclaim their horses, so we can not assume who will ultimately be declared the legal owner of these horses. First the state has to prove Parkinson is guilty of neglect; next, if she is found or pleads guilty, then the state has to successfully petition that she forfeit ownership.

It is a long legal road ahead.