BOULDER — A hearing to determine restitution owed by Mike Chilinski, convicted of more than 90 counts of animal cruelty, ended abruptly Wednesday when a judge ordered lawyers to file briefs on a motion by Chilinski’s lawyer to scrap the hearing entirely.
If District Judge Loren Tucker rejects that motion, the hearing could resume in about a month.
Prosecutors have said the amount owed by Chilinski for the care of some 161 malamutes seized in October 2011 and their offspring could exceed $500,000, even after being offset by about $75,000 in donations.
Chilinski, who also awaits sentencing in federal court for growing marijuana, might never pay the amount the court ultimately decides, said Adam Parascandola, the director of animal cruelty response for the Humane Society of the United States, which is claiming the vast majority of the costs.
But, he said, the restitution would send a signal.
“I think it’s important that people who are mistreating animals to pay the costs,” he said after the hearing.
Parascandola flew from Washington, D.C., to testify at the hearing, as he did in December when District Judge Loren Tucker sentenced Chilinski to 30 years with the Department of Corrections, with 25 suspended, and conditions that could prevent him from owning animals until he’s in his 80s.
He will likely fly out again should Tucker resume the hearing.
Tucker recessed the court after Chilinski’s public defender, Betty Carlson, made a motion to dismiss the hearing. She argued that the law does not permit a restitution determination after sentence has already been pronounced.
At the December sentencing, Carlson said she had just received documents submitted by prosecutors, and Tucker agreed to leave the restitution portion of the sentence for another hearing.
Tucker ordered Carlson to file a brief in the matter, allowing prosecutors to respond. Carlson then would have a period of time to reply to the response.
Based on scheduling procedures explained by lawyers at the hearing, the matter could be ready for Tucker’s decision in about a month.
In October, a jury found Chilinski guilty of 91 counts of animal cruelty. Prosecutors said investigators discovered dogs emaciated, diseased, malnourished and living in filthy conditions in his kennels outside Jefferson City.
Chilinski has maintained that he was a highly regarded dog breeder, he never intended to abuse the dogs and that the conditions were not as bad as prosecutors claimed.
He’s also claimed his constitutional rights were violated, particularly by allowing the Humane Society groups — local and national — to exercise police-like powers in what they called the “rescue” of the dogs in 2011.
Carlson has indicated Chilinski will appeal the conviction, although it’s not certain on what basis.
The Humane Society of Western Montana has proposed legislation to prevent such breeding operations from taking a turn like Chilinski’s, said Wendy Hergenraeder, Montana director for state affairs of the Humane Society of the United States.
The bill draft, requested by Rep. Margie MacDonald, D-Billings, would create the Montana Commercial Pet Protection Act, requiring the Department of Livestock to make rules to regulate commercial breeders.
About half of the dogs, which at one point numbered about 170, have been placed in foster homes and with families and individuals, including several in the Helena area, said Liz Harrison, spokeswoman for the Lewis and Clark Humane Society.
The remainder are still at “Malamute Village,” she said, referring to the former state nursery just west of Helena on Route 12, now with numerous empty kennels.
“It’s been very bittersweet for everybody, actually,” she said. “We’ve gotten really attached for them, be-cause we’ve had them for 16 months.”
Reporter Sanjay Talwani: 447-4086, email@example.com. Follow Sanjay onTwitter.com/IR_SanjayT.