Janet Wherry, 64, the owner of Triple Springs Ranch on San Mateo Road, pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor charges of animal abuse, with the possibility to be sentenced to no more than 30 days in jail. Released on her own recognizance, Wherry will be sentenced in October.
Two other misdemeanor charges of animal abuse were dropped as part of the plea bargain, prosecutor Sean Dabel said Thursday.
After an anonymous complaint in August 2005, Luther, according to Dabel, was found by the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA on Wherry's property with open wounds infested by maggots and was subsequently euthanized. Vidia was seized in July 2006 after being found, according to the humane society, emaciated with an old, untreated eye injury, and with lice and overgrown hooves.
Dabel said Wherry agreed to take the plea after Judge Carl Holm dismissed a motion by Wherry's defense to suppress evidence on the grounds it was illegally obtained.
"It was ready to go to trial at that point, and that's when the plea came in," Dabel said.
Mark Webb, a San Francisco trial attorney who led Wherry's defense, did not return a call seeking comment Thursday.
Jim Knapp, the president of the Redwood City watchdog group Citizens for Accountability that advocated for Wherry, said that she was forced into taking the plea after Webb failed to call any witnesses in the suppression hearing or otherwise prepare.
"He didn't do a lot of things that he should have done," Knapp said. "She felt, 'Why go forward in a trial and risk being found guilty?'"
Webb also is representing Wherry in a civil suit she filed in February against San Mateo County and the Humane Society, which provides animal control services for the county and its 20 cities under contract.
Wherry is suing the county and the Humane Society for negligent hiring and retention of Debi DeNardi, the Humane Society's captain of field services, who testified for the prosecution in the evidence-suppression hearing.
DeNardi has come under fire for a felony charge from 1992 of taking nearly $96,000 from her family's Floortrends store in San Francisco. The district at- torney's office, concerned aboutwitness credibility in prosecuting Wherry, investigated and found the charge against DeNardi was reduced to a misdemeanor and expunged, said Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.
Wherry is also suing the county, the humane society and DeNardi for negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, conversion of property, deprivation of due process, abuse of process and defamation of character.
Knapp said that Wednesday's plea is not a setback for the civil suit.
"The fact that someone takes a plea doesn't mean anything," Knapp said.
He did not know, however, whether Webb would be kept on as the attorney in the civil suit. Webb also picked up similar suits from two other animal owners who have had run-ins with DeNardi.
Knapp said he plans to keep pushing the question of DeNardi's credibility and whether she should be involved in enforcement of animal welfare laws.
"In the big picture, this is still dirty. Debi DeNardi should not be in her position. And we are going to continue with our efforts to remove her from her position. The plea doesn't weaken the argument against Debi DeNardi," Knapp said. "Her credibility is at stake."
Regardless of what heat the humane society could face in the future, society spokesman Scott Delucchi said they were satisfied with the outcome in Wherry's case and defended the way in which it was handled.
"If we do anything wrong on our end, the DA won't take the case, it's as simple as that," Delucchi said. "It our minds, having someone, essentially, admit to mistreating animals is all we wanted."
Staff writer Rebekah Gordon can be reached at (650) 306-2428 or firstname.lastname@example.org.