American News Nov 1, 2020 2:15 PM EST

Pawshank redemption: County pursues multi-year legal action against tabby cat

(photo Jon Zimmerman) Purr-suit of the cat has has already cost King County tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

Pawshank redemption: County pursues multi-year legal action against tabby cat
Ari Hoffman Seattle, WA
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An infamous Bellevue, WA tabby cat is at the center of a purr-fect storm of legal hiss-ues surrounding a government agency's prosecution of a family's cat and its owner. Purr-suit of the cat has has already cost King County tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

Anna Danieli, a Bellevue resident and the cat's owner, filed legal action against various government-related defendants and their roles in animal enforcement actions taken against her and her family's brown tabby cat Miska. Danieli has alleged governmental overreach because of ongoing prosecution of her and her cat over several years by the City of Bellevue, King County, Regional Animal Services of King County (RASKC), the King County Hearing Examiner, Gene Mueller (the RASKC Manager), and Tim Anderson, Lead Field Sergeant for RASKC.

Bellevue is not a "right to roam" city, meaning that owners can be held liable for damage done by their cats outside the confines of their property. Jon Zimmerman, attorney for Danieli and Miska, believes that many of the complaints filed against Miska by neighbors, one of which happens to be King County's regional animal services manager, unfairly targeted her, wanting the cat deported from King County and purr-sued "…Miska is like no other cat in Bellevue and King County" the lawsuit alleged.

"We have an individual who's the head of animal control, with a lot of authority in the jurisdiction for animals in various cities in King County," said Jeffrey Possinger, another attorney for the cat. "This is really somebody who has overstepped their bounds." RASKC even believes that Miska is a Savannah cat, a more aggressive "crossbreed between a domesticated cat and an African Serval" rather than a tabby cat.

"Miska is the most prosecuted cat in King County and in the City of Bellevue," says Zimmerman. Her "tail" began in 2014 and since then at least 37 violations have been leveled against Miska by RASKC. "Out of the 50 cases for cats, about 75-percent are against this cat that just happens to live in the manager's neighborhood," said Possinger.

Miska has been in an out of the "pen" feline since 2014. According to her attorneys, she was detained in "kitty jail" for allegedly trespassing, harming rabbits, chickens, ducks, and other neighborhood animals. Miska later received a "confinement order," essentially house arrest, requiring that her owner keep her in a fenced area secured "…with a padlock to prevent accidental release," or leashed when outside the confines of her property.

Miska has been referred to by some as a known "terror cat" an absurd labelling unless Miska was a member of "Al Cat-a." Her lawyers also argued they were paw-sitive that RASKC did not have probable-claws for holding Miska because the cat lacked the opposable thumbs to let the other animals out of their cages which led to their demise. Fur-tunately, Danieli was able to bail her out when RASKC agreed to release the cat if Danieli paid kenneling fees. "I think that Miska is guilty of being a cat in Bellevue, a cat who's acting like a cat," Zimmerman told KIRO 7.

"She wasn't convicted of anything at the time, people who are convicted of a lot of crimes don't spend that kind of time incarcerated in solitary confinement without her family," said Zimmerman.

Zimmerman told The News Tribune last year that Miska was able to legally roam in Bellevue when she was born and that the law has since changed. He said it wouldn't be fair to make her an indoor tabby. "I think that this is somebody who has had the freedom to be outside for a long time."

Danieli's lawsuit asked a Pierce County judge to void Miska's violations and to keep RASKC from prosecuting Miska in front of the King County Hearing Examiner. The suit asked that RASKC's determination that Miska is "vicious" be voided, as well as any removal orders by the former or acting RASKC manager.

One of the primary legal arguments of Miska's lawyers is that the Bellevue City Code currently says the King County Board of Appeals is where a case goes when someone contests a violation from RASKC. But that board stopped hearing such cases in 2016, and since then they've gone to the hearing examiner. King County provides Animal Services to the City of Bellevue through an Interlocal Agreement (ILA). In 2017, the ILA was updated to reflect the changes in the King County Code, but the City of Bellevue failed to update its code to keep up with the changes.  This created a problem in the law itself.

Miska had her day in court last Friday, to challenge whether the King County Hearing Examiner had the authority to pass judgement on the complaints against her. The judge ruled Friday that the process used by King County to rule on complaints against Miska "…was not enshrined in Bellevue law..." and that that the King County Hearing Examiner lacked authority for Bellevue to hear these cases until such time as Bellevue properly gives the Hearing Examiner that authority."

Possinger told reporters: "The court ruled today that the City of Bellevue can no longer have animal control cases heard by the King County Hearing Examiner until the City of Bellevue Code is changed or some other thing is done so that it's now appropriately entered in as a matter of law."

"All of those cases that have been filed against Miska, the hearing examiner had no authority to even adjudicate them," Zimmerman said. "The judge ruled that the hearing examiner did not have authority to even hear Bellevue cases, these Bellevue animal enforcement cases, at all, and that's really significant because he's been hearing those cases since 2016." Zimmerman was "feline" good about the ruling and called Friday's hearing "a victory for citizens of Bellevue and particularly pet owners in Bellevue."

Possinger told The Post Millennial that one of the significant issues and why King County and Bellevue are fighting so hard is how the judge's decision in this case could potentially affect a significant number of people in the City of Bellevue (or any other contracting city in King County that has failed to properly update its municipal code) whose cases were decided based on either outdated or missing municipal code provisions.

The story does not have an entirely happy ending though. The cat is now out of the bag on news that Miska has been missing for several months possibly "on the lam" but there are allegations and indicators that Miska was "catnapped" or a victim of "fowl play" or possibly in the custody of animal control.  Her owner plans to continue with her civil case. "We'll always keep fighting for Miska" said Zimmerman.

A trial is expected in early 2021.

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