Jamie Contreras graduated from Lewis & Clark Law School in 2002. It was during her time as a law student that Jamie developed a passion for animal rights. She participated in animal law courses and activities and served as an articles editor for the law review, Animal Law. Jamie is currently Assistant Attorney Aeneral in the appellate division with the Oregon Department of Justice in Salem, Oregon.
Jamie was recently given the opportunity to work on a potentially precedent setting case. In April 2009, the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant in Stanfield, Ore. in response to an animal neglect complaint. What they found was horrific – 20 goats, 3 horses, and 2 dogs in deplorable conditions; numerous goat and horse carcasses littered the property. The owner, Arnold Weldon Nix, was arrested on 23 counts of animal abuse/neglect.
The D.A. charged the defendant, Nix, with 93 counts of animal neglect, and the case went to jury trial. The jury convicted Nix on 20 counts of second-degree animal neglect, with each count representing a particular injured horse. One would assume 20 guilty verdicts means 20 convictions, but in this case the trial court merged 19 of the 20 counts into one formal conviction. The trial court held that the horses were not "victims" of neglect for purposes of merger – that only people can be "victims" – and because all of the animals belonged to a single "owner" (defendant), "the State of Oregon" was the single "victim" of defendant's crimes. Jamie took the issue to the Court of Appeals, concerned that other trial courts might follow suit, meaning that the state would have serious problems prosecuting hoarding cases; by that precedent, if someone neglected her own animals, it wouldn't matter if she had 2 or 200–she would only be convicted on a single count of animal neglect. The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed amicus curiae brief in the Court of Appeals that supports the state's position. A ruling in the appeal is still pending.
Jamie feels confident they’ll win the case but said, “Even if we lose this case, we will expose a huge loophole in the animal neglect statutes that can be fixed legislatively. And I will spend my personal time on weekends and evenings calling every humane society and animal advocacy group I can find to tell them all about it.”