Wisconsin State Journal

Humphrey's handling of horse cases questioned
October 2, 2007

Beginning early in his 18-year career in the district attorney's office, Paul Humphrey generated headlines and controversy amid allegations that the prosecutor went too far in pursuing animal-abuse cases where the existence of harm and the culpability of the accused were highly questionable.

The Wisconsin State Journal began publishing stories in 1994 questioning Humphrey's prosecutions in a series of cases alleging horse neglect. One of the cases ended in Dane County, the Humane Society and the state — which represented Humphrey — agreeing to pay owner Hugh Porter of Madison $97,500 to end a federal lawsuit alleging Porter's due process rights had been violated.

The settlement was reached after the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that Humphrey and the Humane Society had violated Porter's rights by taking "random and unauthorized" actions, including failing to notify Porter — who was never charged or accused of any crime — that his horses were seized and not allowing him the chance to redeem them.

The federal case stemmed from an October 1992 prosecution in which Humphrey authorized the seizure and sale of nine thoroughbred horses owned by Porter, along with two other horses owned by Porter's then-fiancee. The woman, who was caring for his horses while Porter was staying in Alaska, was charged with 16 counts of animal neglect — charges she vehemently contested.

Five months after they were confiscated, the thoroughbreds were given or sold for pennies on the dollar to some of the officials involved in the prosecution, including the veterinarian who declared them neglected, the Dane County Humane Society officer who seized the horses and some of her friends.

"The whole thing was just not proper," Porter, a retired school administrator, said in an interview earlier this year. . "They (county) had to pay me just shy of $100,000, which was a direct result of Humphrey's mishandling of the case."

Sum Fello, a hunter-jumper formerly owned by Hugh Porter of Madison, was among nine thoroughbreds seized in 1992 by Humphrey that the Dane County Humane Society alleged were neglected by Porter's then-fiancee. Months later, the horses were sold for pennies on the dollar to officials involved in case. Sum Fello, Porter's personal riding horse, was adopted by Susan DiBlasio, the humane officer who worked with Humphrey on the case. Dane County, the Humane Society and the state – which represented Humphrey – agreed in 1996 to pay Porter $97,500 to halt a federal lawsuit alleging Porter's due process rights had been violated.

In his defense, Humphrey said in an interview that it was the Humane Society, not he, who determined how the horses would be distributed. Humphrey acknowledged, though, that he should have paid closer attention to where the horses went. He stands by the allegation that the horses were mistreated.

Humphrey added he was the one who blew the whistle on the questionable distribution of the horses. "I brought it to my boss' attention as soon as I found out," Humphrey said.

Bought for $25
The State Journal's 1994 investigation into the seizure of Porter's horses showed that at least one of the animals was healthy enough to generate profits for its next two owners. Independent Party, the racehorse purchased for $25 by veterinarian Dr. William Patterson, was resold by Patterson for $2,500 and was racing within two years of its seizure, earning more more than $10,000 in purses, the newspaper found.

Another Porter horse died of complications following castration surgery after it was seized, former Humane Officer Susan DiBlasio acknowledged in a sworn affidavit. A former Humane Society employee, Nancy Dresser, bought another of the horses for $300 and sold it for $12,000, the State Journal investigation showed.

Humphrey said that having officials involved in the seizure adopt the horses "may be a conflict of interest" for the Humane Society. However, he insisted the distribution of the horses was not handled by him but the agency.

"Now whether they had actually went through the proper procedures, I don't know. I don't know to this day," Humphrey said. "The Humane Society was very scrupulous about the way they handled things ordinarily."

Living with it
Porter said the "most painful" part of the episode was the treatment of his former fiancee, who pleaded no contest to five counts of animal mistreatment and spent 20 days in the Dane County Jail in a failed bid to get her own two horses back. The woman asked not to be named, saying that she was unfairly branded as an animal abuser.

"It's like a person who is charged with child molestation," the now-60-year-old woman said. "Even if they're 100 percent innocent, people look at them differently. It's unfortunately something you have to live with for the rest of your life."

At the time of the plea on May 17, 1993, Humphrey agreed to return two of the defendant's own quarter horses also seized in the raid if she agreed to pay part of the boarding costs and meet other conditions. Court records show the woman repeatedly tried to contact Humphrey and the Humane Society to retrieve her two horses while the cost of boarding climbed to nearly $10,000.

On Feb. 4, 1994 — eight months after Humphrey promised to return the woman's horses if she met certain conditions — she finally reached Humphrey. The prosecutor said the horses already had been sold, a statement he later admitted in a letter wasn't true.
Although she continued to ask for her horses back, Humphrey never returned them. Humphrey's attorney, Lester Pines, said the prosecutor had no obligation to help the woman get her horses back.

Said Porter: "She was run over the coals real bad."

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