Friday, March 1, 2013 at 11:30 a.m.
A complaint seeking at least $25 million from Orange County and numerous employees at the Orange County Heathcare Agency's Animal Care Services for illegally seizing hundreds of exotic animals from a Stanton specialty pet shop has been tossed out of federal court after a settlement.
Jerry L. Steering--the Newport Beach-based attorney for Christopher Louis Rayburn, owner of Radical Reptiles--had argued in the lawsuit that county employees violated Rayburn's constitutional right against illegal search and seizure by concocting false claims that the animals had been denied adequate food, water and shelter.
According to Steering, county employees were clueless about the needs of the reptiles.
But Norman J. Watkins, a lawyer for the county, argued that Rayburn was brazenly seeking a financial windfall because county employees appropriately seized the animals in what they believed was an emergency situation.
Watkins' chief exhibit to back up his argument was a September 2012 plea bargain Rayburn signed with a prosecutor in the Orange County District Attorney's office.
In that plea deal that won him a reduction in charges, Rayburn admitted that he was guilty of nine misdemeanor counts relating to animal cruelty.
At a September 2012 sentencing hearing, a judge punished him with three years of probation.
This month, U.S. District Court Judge Jesus G. Bernal dismissed the lawsuit after Steering negotiated a February settlement that requires county officials to stop demanding more than $150,000 in fees they sought for housing the reptiles after the seizure.
Radical Reptiles, which closed, sold exotic reptiles, arachnids, scorpions, snakes and fish.
[UPDATE, March 7, 2013: The original version of this article did not mention the settlement because it was not referenced by the judge when he closed the case nor was the deal posted as part of the public record.]