Despite Thurston County prosecuting attorneys’ objections to delaying the Carolyn and Debbie Lattin goat-abuse trial, District Court Judge Sam Meyer agreed Wednesday to postpone the case so that Debbie Lattin can consult a different attorney.
That was the major discussion Wednesday in the ongoing animal cruelty case involving the operators of Lattin’s Country Cider Mill and Farm on Rich Road in Thurston County. Eighteen goats were seized by the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office and placed in the care of Hooved Animal Rescue of Thurston County in mid-June after a complaint about the treatment of the animals. The goats were later determined to be suffering from hoof rot.
The Lattins were ultimately charged with second-degree animal cruelty, a gross misdemeanor.
Judge Meyer said Wednesday he had been thinking a lot about the case over the weekend, including about the “concept of conflict between the clients.”
As it stands now, the Lattins are represented by one attorney, Justin Kover. But Judge Meyer raised this concern: What if, during the course of the trial, they determine one person was responsible for the care of the goats? Does that mean Kover has to advocate for one of his clients to the detriment of the other?
It apparently was a well-timed observation by Judge Meyer because Kover announced that Debbie Lattin would like to consult with separate counsel. And to give her time to do so, Kover requested that the trial, previously set for Oct. 16, be pushed back to the first week of January.
Jeffrey Lippert, chief criminal deputy prosecuting attorney, quickly took issue with the conflict argument, pointing out that Kover has been representing the Lattins for months.
“This issue has been apparent from the beginning,” he said. “I see no reason why that (the continuance) should be granted.”
Lippert also pointed out the costs being shouldered by Hooved Animal Rescue for the care of the goats, and that if the state prevails in the case, those costs would be transferred to the Lattins.
Meyer took a short recess to mull arguments, then returned to say the “conflict issue was a real issue,” particularly if it comes up at trial and causes the case to be tried again — something Meyer wants to avoid, he said. His counter was to set trial for Dec. 4.
Meyer made quick work of some related issues:
▪ Debbie Lattin applied to have a court-appointed attorney, but Meyer denied the request, saying court-appointed attorneys typically are reserved for the flat broke, such as those living out of their cars or on the streets. “The Lattins have a business with a great deal of real property,” he said.
▪ A motion was filed by the Lattins for the immediate return of their goats, with them alleging that the goats currently are being mistreated under the care of Hooved Animal Rescue. “The outcome of the trial will determine what happens to the goats,” Meyer said, adding that if the Lattins are found not guilty, the goats will be returned; guilty, and the goats will stay where they are.
▪ Meyer also denied an affidavit of prejudice filed by Lattins’ attorney Kover, who took issue with some of Meyer’s statements during Friday’s hearing, including that his clients were “pressured to settle the case.”
Meyer took issue with the word “pressure,” but said it was not unusual for him to spend 10 to 15 minutes explaining to the parties involved the advantages of settling a case before it goes to trial. The advantage, he said, is that the Lattins and the state maintain control over the resolution. In a trial, you cede control to a jury, Meyer said.
“They listen to all the evidence and they are going to decide the case,” he said.