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Woman pleads guilty to Floyd County livestock at large violations

By Bob Steenson,

A rural Marble Rock woman has pleaded guilty to two counts of a county infraction of having livestock at large, and 10 similar charges were dismissed.

Jean Louise Westendorf had a judgment entered against her on Friday for $375 on each of the two counts to which she pleaded guilty in Floyd County Magistrate’s Court, or a total of $750, plus court costs for six of the charges.

Westendorf, age 73, was initially cited on 12 separate incidents from September through November last year of allegedly allowing cattle to cross onto another person’s property, with 11 of those cases occurring during 18 days in November.

The cases were originally charged as simple misdemeanors, but were later changed by the court to county infractions at the request of the Floyd County Attorney’s Office.

Bill Vorhes, age 68, also of rural Marble Rock, Westendorf’s brother, has also been charged with two violations of the county ordinance, also in November. Those cases have not been decided yet.

Floyd County passed an ordinance in August 2017 regulating livestock at large.

The county law allows filing charges as simple misdemeanors, with fines of up to $625 and imprisonment up to 30 days in jail; or as civil infractions, with a civil penalty up to $750 on the first conviction and up to $1,000 on subsequent convictions.

The charges can be filed against either the owner of the animals or the person “who is primarily responsible for the care and feeding of the livestock,” according to the ordinance.

Randall Tilton, assistant Floyd County attorney, told the Press before the judgment was issued Friday that he asked the court to change the charges to the county infraction for a couple of reasons.

“It isn’t state law, it is a county ordinance. It is enforced almost strictly by the county sheriff’s department,” Tilton said.

“Being pretty much 100 percent county-oriented, I kind of saw it fitting that any of the penalty involved would go to the county, as opposed to the state as you would have with a violation of state law. The great percentage of any fine under state law goes to the state,” he said.

Also, he said, because a county infraction does not include the possibility of imprisonment, there is no right to a jury trial.

Tilton said a couple of weeks ago that he intended to offer a plea to a reduced number of infractions in the Westendorf cases.

“I am right now just viewing it as this is the end of the first round,” he said. “This first round, and quite likely the second round, will be fine only.

“I don’t feel like going out of the blocks and saying, ‘OK, you let your cattle run at large, you’re going to jail.’ I don’t view that as fair,” Tilton said.

“But maybe after the second time after going through the process and it does not work to curb the behavior, then I might have the officers file them as simple misdemeanors, which opens up the right to court-appointed counsel and also the possibility that I could request jail time as a penalty.”

Tilton said that over the years there have been many hundreds of complaints to the county Sheriff’s Office about animals at large, made by the Vorhes’ family’s neighbors.

At the time the county ordinance was passed, Bill Vorhes said there had been incidents where people had purposefully let his cattle out to get him in trouble.