Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Indiana: Public furor causes judge to recuse from animal abuse case against Steve Rajcinoski

INDIANA -- A criminal court judge has recused herself from the case against a 36-year-old Crown Point man charged with animal neglect and mutilation on allegations he ran a dangerous dog breeding operation at a property in Center Township.

Judge Julie Cantrell was expected to hold a court hearing Monday for Steve Rajcinoski, who was charged last week with 11 felony counts of animal mutilation, as well as several dozen misdemeanor offenses, after police allegedly discovered 68 maltreated dogs last month at his property in the 5900 block of West 125th Avenue.

Cantrell canceled the court hearing and recused herself from the case Monday due to “numerous uninvited ex-parte communications” that have occurred through “social media and telephone calls,” according to online court records.

Cantrell could not be reached for comment Tuesday. A gag order prohibits other parties involved in the case from discussing the allegations. Judges recuse themselves in both criminal and civil cases if they think they have a conflict of interest, or because they believe they may be unable to be impartial.

The case has been reassigned to Judge Jesse Villalpando, of the Lake County Superior Court in Hammond, records state. A new court date has not yet been scheduled.

The case against Rajcinoski, which includes allegations he performed C-sections on the animals and kept them caged in a poorly ventilated garage, has caused a furor on social media.


A Facebook search for “Judge Julie Cantrell” revealed several public messages from residents urging others on the social media website to contact the judge's chambers regarding the allegations against Rajcinoski.

In a message posted Sunday on Facebook, ABRA Inc., a nonprofit animal adoption organization in Crown Point, urged its more than 6,000 followers on Facebook to attend the hearing for Rajcinoski or contact the judge by telephone.

The organization said in an email Wednesday afternoon that it wanted to encourage residents to contact their elected officials to let them know that such “heinous acts” should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

“As residents of Indiana we want to be seen as a state that will address and prosecute any individual whose animals are in the condition of these confiscated animals,” the organization said.


The organization said it wanted lawmakers to strengthen laws that protect the well-being of animals in the state.

Rajcinoski has posted a $2,000 bond and hired defense attorney Paul Stracci, according to records.

(NWI Times - June 14, 2017)