Default judgment denied in Forks dog shelter donor-fraud suit

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES –– A former donor's lawsuit claiming fraud against the now-defunct Olympic Animal Sanctuary will be heard in Clallam County Superior Court after Judge Chris Melly rejected a default judgment motion Friday.

No date has been set for the hearing.

Sherie Maddox of Port Angeles had asked the court to order the sanctuary's director, Steve Markwell, to return a $50,000 donation she said was made explicitly to construct a new shelter for the dangerous-dog shelter that operated in a 4,000-square-foot pink warehouse at 1021 Russell Road in Forks until last Christmas.

Her attorney, Adam Karp of Bellingham, asked the court to issue a default judgment after neither Markwell nor any of the other former directors of the sanctuary, which officially dissolved at the end of 2013, responded to the suit.

Melly rejected the judgment after the sanctuary's newly enlisted attorney, Paul Richmond of Port Townsend, filed a response Thursday.

Markwell comment

“I'm pleased that the court saw through Mr. Karp's attempt to avoid trying this case on its merits, and I'm confident that when the truth comes out, Olympic Animal Sanctuary will be cleared of any wrongdoing,” Markwell said after Friday's hearing.

Richmond said Markwell learned of the Feb. 21 default hearing only through the media.

His client, Richmond said, had never been properly served notice of the suit, with a December attempt at service dismissed by the court.

Maddox said outside the courthouse she expected the default request to be denied after learning the response had been filed

“This is what I expected when I saw he filed last night,” Maddox said. “So now we go forward.”

With the motto “We save dogs you'd rather see dead,” Olympic Animal Sanctuary for nine years housed dangerous dogs that Markwell said would otherwise have been euthanized for attacking people or other animals.

That ended Christmas Eve when Markwell, fleeing heavy protests in Forks by people critical of the conditions in which the dogs were being kept, arrived at a makeshift shelter in the Arizona desert with 124 dogs packed in the back of a semitrailer.

A handful of protesters held signs featuring pictures of dogs from Olympic Animal Sanctuary outside the courthouse after Friday's hearing.

Many of the dogs have since been distributed to other dog rescue organizations around the country, and Markwell had not spoken publicly about the matter until returning to Clallam County to answer Maddox's suit.

Restrictions challenged

The suit, claiming breach of contract and misuse of a restricted donation, claims Maddox met with Markwell and Matthew Randazzo, then chairman of the Clallam County Democratic Party and vice president of the sanctuary's board of directors, about a donation to build more space for the shelter in June 2012.

Markwell, in his response, said the donation was never restricted, nor would it have been enough to build a new structure.

He said Maddox made public statements on social media in support of the donation being spent on food.

Richmond also wrote in his response that Maddox was not solicited for a donation, nor were the funds restricted to a new facility.

“There was never any agreement, written or otherwise, that made the donation solely for the purpose of a new facility,” he wrote.

Donations dried up

Markwell told the Peninsula Daily News in April 2013 that he had plans to move the sanctuary to 10 acres of land in rural Clallam County owned by Eileen Schmitz, owner and broker of Port Angeles-based JACE The Real Estate Co.

In her plea to the court, Maddox said Markwell asked her for another donation in April.

In his response, Markwell said he asked all donors for another round of funding as donations to his nonprofit shelter began to dry up after a social media campaign criticizing the dogs' living conditions caught the attention of animal-rights groups across the country.

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Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at jsmillie@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 01. 2014 6:11PM
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