Texas apparently wasn’t big enough for them, either
HOUSTON, Texas––Cyberspace ain’t big enough, apparently, for both Rowdy Girl Sanctuary founder Renee King-Sonnen and critics led by Dallas child psychiatrist and former Rowdy Girl Sanctuary donor Sujatha Ramakrishna, nor for Bat World Sanctuary founder Amanda Lollar and her vehement critic Mary Cummins.
But when the Texas sanctuarians King-Sonnen and Lollar faced their critics in separate, unrelated courtroom showdowns, King-Sonnen shot awry in the verdict of Harris County presiding judge Carolyn E. Baker.
Pending the outcome of an appeal filed on August 17, 2017, King-Sonnen, her husband Tommy Sonnen, and the Rowdy Girl Sanctuary owe three of their critics including Ramakrishna $159,000 in legal fees and sanctions for filing an allegedly frivolous lawsuit charging them with business disparagement, defamation, and civil conspiracy.
Appeal claims new case law should change verdict
In the appeal, wrote Houston Press investigative reporter Craig Malisow, “Anuj Shah, attorney for Renee King-Sonnen and her husband Tommy Sonnen, argue that new case law suggests the complaint should not have been dismissed under the state’s so-called anti-SLAPP law.
“The Sonnens had sued a host of critics who called the sanctuary a ‘scam’ and a ‘con,’ Malisow summarized, “on a Facebook page questioning how the couple spent donations, as well as the welfare of the animals. The new motion claims that “a case decided two days after the hearing in this matter has found that a false statement alleging a ‘scam’ about animals would be defamatory if proven.”
“Batwoman” won $6.1 million
In the Lollar/Cummins trial court showdown, Lollar figuratively hit Cummins dead between the eyes, winning a $6.1 million defamation judgement back in 2012––still the highest award known to ANIMALS 24-7 in a defamation case among animal advocates.
But Lollar and Bat World Sanctuary are in September 2017 set to go court again, this time in California, continuing a six-year effort to collect the money.
Bat World Sanctuary, of Weatherford, Texas, begun in 1988, “is the world’s largest rescue/rehabilitation/teaching sanctuary dedicated exclusively to bats,” recounts Randy Turner, attorney for Lollar and Bat World.
“It is the only bat sanctuary in the world that is accredited by [both] the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries and the American Sanctuary Association.”
Lollar, Turner adds, “is an internationally renowned bat expert, rehabilitater, and author of seven books, including the definitive medical reference book on insectivorous bats that is used worldwide by veterinarians and wildlife centers.”
“Had a collection of leather boots”
King-Sonnen, of Angleton, Texas, previously a country/western entertainer and involved in various sales enterprises, has a much shorter history than either Lollar, Cummins, or most of her critics as an animal advocate, having only founded the Rowdy Girl Sanctuary in 2015.
According to the Rowdy Girl Sanctuary mission statement, “In a past life we [Renee King-Sonnen and her husband Tommy Sonnen] were Texas ranchers and hunters. We loved the rodeo, rode horses, ate barbecue, and had a collection of leather boots. Today, we are compassionate about rescuing farm animals and harboring them safely. Through education we are able to provide a paradigm shift to ranchers who have bound animals to the cruelty of factory farming ending in brutal death. We value sharing our unique experiences, vegan way of life, compassionate farming, and veganic gardening with everyday Texans and the world.”
Raised $30,000 to buy husband’s cattle
Recalled Malisow, “Rowdy Girl first made headlines nationwide through its unusual origin story: After Renee King-Sonnen remarried Tommy Sonnen, a retired Dow Chemical employee turned cattle rancher,” to whom she was previously married before 1994 divorce, “she became vegan and wanted to save her husband’s cattle from slaughter. Instead of simply allowing the cows to live out their days in the pasture, Sonnen said his wife could buy them. So King-Sonnen raised $30,000 online to purchase the animals,” through her online Vegan Journal of a Rancher’s Wife.”
The King-Sonnen story was quickly embraced and amplified by many prominent vegan activists, including television personality Janie Velez-Mitchell via her blog site Jane Unchained, and Farm Animal Rights Movement founder Alex Hershaft, who gave King-Sonnen a speaking spot at the Animal Rights 2016 conference banquet.
Velez-Mitchell in March 2017 became a Rowdy Girl Sanctuary board member.
But King-Sonnen had barely left the AR 2016 stage when nine longtime animal advocates posted to Facebook an extensive critique calling into question her aggressive fundraising tactics and her sincerity, in view of her history of involvement in animal use activities.
Critics––those and others––wondered, in particular, why King-Sonnen had to appeal to animal charity donors to raise funds to buy her husband’s cattle, when in an October 2016 posting to Nutritionalstudies.org, she wrote that, “When my husband and I remarried for the 2nd time [in 2010], I was a top producing realtor in a prominent subdivision in Pearland, Texas. I was an expert buyer’s agent in a 4,000-acre master planned community, and I thought I had ‘arrived.’ Earning a 6-figure income was easy — I had found my financial niche in the world.”
The Rowdy Girl Sanctuary filing of IRS Form 990 for 2015 raised further questions.
The critics “raised questions about how the nonprofit used its donations,” wrote Malisow. “The sanctuary spent more on ‘office expenses’ ($3,131) than on veterinary care ($2,169). Nearly $8,700 went to ‘advertising and promotion,’ and nearly $3,000 went to making T-shirts. Another $2,091 went to ‘information technology.’”
None of this, by itself, would be far out of line with the spending patterns associated with other sanctuaries for farmed animals that also promote veganism.
Depreciation of sanctuary animals?
But “also questioned,” Malisow summarized, “was that while King-Sonnen raised $34,000 to buy the cows,” 49 of them in all, plus five pigs, 23 chickens, three ducks, three horses, and a turkey listed on the 2015 Form 990, the tax return “shows that it holds only $27,000 worth of livestock, leaving a $7,000 discrepancy.
“King-Sonnen told the Houston Press the lesser amount was due to depreciation,” Malisow wrote. “While federal tax guidelines allow depreciation of livestock under certain conditions, those rules are generally tied to the animals’ use — i.e., dairy, breeding or drafting (work animals). The federal guidelines do not allow depreciation for livestock ranchers raise, and it’s unclear if cows not used for any agricultural purpose can still be defined as livestock.”
Not common practice
Malisow followed up on August 18, 2017. “Sanctuary board member Drew Alexis told the Press in an email last week,” Malisow wrote, “that he checked with the organization’s outside accountant, Brownie Kimes, who ‘indicated to me [Alexis] that the cows are treated by the Internal Revenue Code in this case as an asset with a life of more than one year and, therefore, subject to depreciation pursuant to generally accepted accounting principles.'”
Continued Malisow, “We asked other animal sanctuaries if they followed this practice, and they all said they did not, except for Best Friends Animal Society, which declined to answer at all. A representative of the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, an accrediting organization, told us, ‘Including animals as depreciating assets is not a practice commonly used by sanctuaries applying for GFAS accreditation.’
The editor of ANIMALS 24-7 has since 1991 examined more than 2,000 IRS Form 990 filings from sanctuaries and other nonprofit animal care organizations. While zoos sometimes claim depreciation on animal inventory, the practice is practically unheard of among sanctuaries and other charities not putting animals directly to economic use.
Eventually, recounted the Rowdy Girl Sanctuary critics’ Facebook page The Real Rowdy Girl Revealed, “On February 14, 2017 Rowdy Girl Sanctuary, Tommy Sonnen, and Renee King-Sonnen filed a lawsuit against six individuals. Two of the defendants were never served, one was quickly dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, and on July 26, 2017 the judge ruled in favor of the other three defendants,” The Real Rowdy Girl Revealed recounted.
Concluded Judge Baker, “The court concludes that absent the sanction awarded there is a material risk that Plaintiffs will continue to bring similarly unsubstantiated claims in the future.”
Acknowledged King-Sonnen, “The court ruled the action should be dismissed and that Rowdy Girl Sanctuary, King-Sonnen and [Tommy] Sonnen should pay the three defendants attorney’s fees, costs and sanctions totaling $159,000.”
Cows for ransom?
Before the Rowdy Girl Sanctuary appeal was filed, King-Sonnen in a PRNewswire statement said she and the other plaintiffs might appeal.
Meanwhile, the plaintiffs contended through counsel, “If plaintiffs are ordered to pay nearly $100,000 in defendants’ attorneys’ fees, they will be forced to shut down the Rowdy Girl Sanctuary…The animals at the sanctuary do not deserve to be homeless and possibly sent to slaughter because plaintiffs attempted to defend their reputations.”
In event the appeal fails, will King-Sonnen again appeal to animal charity donors to save the same animals who were bought from her husband in the first place? Stay tuned.
Bat World still trying to collect
The outcome of the Rowdy Girl Sanctuary appeal would appear to depend on how applicable to the plaintiff’s case the court finds the “new case law” cited.
Absent a successful appeal, which relatively seldom occurs when a case is dismissed with sanctions at the first level of the judicial process, but can occur as result of a change in case law, it is questionable that King-Sonnen et al can avoid or delay fulfilling the judgement as long as Cummins has avoided paying Lollar and Bat World Sanctuary.
Tarrant County District Judge William Brigham found after a four-day trial in 2012 that Cummins had committed “intentional, malicious, and egregious” defamation against Lollar, sustained over several years, beginning in 2010, and had breached an internship contract she signed in 2010 with Bat World, before her grievances emerged.
Brigham ordered Cummins to pay Lollar and Bat World Sanctuary $3.0 million in compensatory damages and $3.0 million in punitive damages, plus $10,000 for the alleged breach of her contract with Bat World and $176,700 in attorney’s fees.
Award upheld on appeal
The award was affirmed in 2014 by the Texas Second District Court of Appeals. The appellate court found, in a 76-page opinion, that “Lollar showed by clear and convincing evidence that Cummins acted with malice.”
The award was upheld again in 2016, after Cummins appealed to the Supreme Court of Texas.
Cummins “still owes approximately $8.85 million,” Lollar’s attorney Randy Turner wrote recently at http://www.randyturner.com/randys-cyber-stalker.
“Post-judgment interest is accruing at the rate of $1,676.99 per day or $51,616.77 per month,” Turner calculated.
California Debtor’s Court date
“In May 2017 investigators finally located Cummins and served her with an Order to Produce Statement of Assets and to Appear for Examination,” Turner added.
Cummins “has been ordered to appear in California Debtor’s Court at 1:30 p.m. on September 18, 2017,” Turner wrote, “where she will be grilled under oath about everything she owns, her income, assets, vehicles, expenditures, monthly living expenses, inheritance, trust funds, and all bank accounts she has access to. Her assets will be seized shortly thereafter,” pending further twists in the already seven-year-old case.
Background of the case
Summarized Bat World Sanctuary in a 2012 prepared statement about the origins of the case, “Mary Cummins was accepted for an internship at Bat World,” but “became dissatisfied with the program and left the internship early.” Cummins then posted what Bat World Sanctuary termed “horrific allegations of animal cruelty against Lollar on the Internet.” Cummins also filed complaints against Bat World with at least eight government agencies.
“Every agency that investigated Bat World Sanctuary found Cummins’ complaints to be completely without merit,” said the Bat World Sanctuary statement.
“Cummins has been involved in over 20 lawsuits and has been sued four times for defamation,” the Bat World statement mentioned.
Notably, a lawsuit brought by Cummins against the Los Angeles Department of Animal Regulation was instrumental in the April 2009 resignation of then-general manager Ed Boks. Boks was the fourth person to head the department in seven years, but was succeeded by Brenda Barnette, who still holds the position.
Boks previously headed the Maricopa County Animal Control department in Phoenix and the New York City Center for Animal Care & Control. After leaving Los Angeles, Boks headed the Yavapai Humane Society in Prescott, Arizona from June 2010 to July 2016.