Seven felonies & four misdemeanors could bring life sentence
EVERGREEN, Colorado––Animal Law Center founder Jennifer Reba Edwards Emmi, 43, previously best known for defending alleged dangerous dogs and accused animal hoarders, is due to be sentenced on August 16, 2021 after pleading guilty to seven felonies and four misdemeanors.
Edwards on June 28, 2021 pleaded guilty to solicitation to commit second-degree murder, menacing, heat-of-passion strangulation, attempting to influence a judge, violation of a bail bond, retaliation against a witness, stalking, criminal mischief, reckless driving, tampering, and two counts of child abuse.
Eleven other felony counts and 12 misdemeanor charges were dismissed as part of a plea bargain.
Seeks release on probation
Representing Emmi, attorney Colin Bresee told media that he would ask that Edwards be released on probation, but added that the prosecution is seeking prison time.
The seven felony pleas are by themselves twice enough to send Edwards to prison for life as a habitual offender, under the Colorado “three strikes” law.
Arrested in late January 2021, Edwards, summarized Denver Post reporter Shelly Bradbury, “tried to hire a former [U.S. military] sniper and a ranch hand to kill her estranged husband’s new girlfriend and others, as part of a year-long campaign of harassment, stalking and threats, authorities alleged in a 33-page affidavit.”
Threatened to kill children
Elaborated Jennifer Campbell-Hicks for 9 News in Denver, “The affidavit describes a pattern of harassment and stalking dating back to January 2019, when [Edwards’] husband said he caught her cheating and stated his intention to divorce. He backed off on a divorce when Emmi claimed multiple medical issues, none of which could be verified. They still separated and shared custody of their children, the affidavit says.
“In September 2019, [Edwards] threatened to kill one of the children. She made threats again in December of that year,” Campbell-Hicks continued. “In early January 2020, she strangled one of the children when the child tried to call her father for help out of concern for how [Edwards] was behaving. Also that month, she held a knife to her husband’s throat at a family birthday celebration, according to the affidavit.”
“Banking for the cannabis industry”
The divorce of Edwards and her former husband Donald T. Emmi was reportedly completed on February 3, 2021, after more than a year in court.
Emmi is described on the HempNav web site as “a recognized expert in banking for the cannabis industry,” who “was instrumental in building the nation’s first cannabis transaction escrow company and has been a strategic and legal advisor on more than $100 million in cannabis transactions and merger and acquisition activity.”
Cases that others “don’t touch”
“Edwards started the Animal Law Center in 2006 right out of law school,” according to an August 2012 profile by Denver Post reporter Monte Whaley, “because she wanted to tackle cases that other law firms in Colorado and the rest of the country don’t touch.”
Guidestar, the service contractor that posts nonprofit disclosure information for the Internal Revenue Service, indicates that Edwards actually incorporated the Animal Law Center in 1999, which would be when she was only 21 years of age, seven years before she became an attorney and eight years before her former husband did.
Guidestar also states that the Animal Law Center has never filed IRS Form 990.
Pet food & goats
“Edwards in 2007 filed one of the first lawsuits against Canada-based pet-food maker Menu Foods and its subsidiaries,” recalled Whaley, “after pets began dying from eating tainted pet foods. The class-action suit eventually led to a $24 million settlement payment to pet owners.
“Edwards also got the Colorado State Fair to reinstate exhibiting privileges to members of a Sedalia family whose two goats were disqualified after an unapproved growth stimulant was detected in their food,” Whaley remembered.
Helped to overturn Denver pit bull ban
Mostly, Edwards and law partner Jay Wayne Swearingen, 73, attacked dangerous dog laws and sued police departments whose officers shot dogs in the line of duty.
Edwards in October 2009 won what she predicted would be a first step toward overturning the 1989 Denver pit bull ban when “an administrative judge ruled that Denver Animal Care and Control must remove the pit bull breed label from Kevin O’Connell’s dog,” summarized Denver Post reporter Jordan Steffen.
O’Connell contended the dog was a boxer mix.
Denver voters repealed the pit bull ban on November 4, 2020.
Police officer training
A month after winning the Denver case, Edwards won a settlement in U.S. District Court requiring the police department in Brighton, Colorado to give officers a seven-hour course in “how dogs display stress, aggression and fear, taking cues from their mannerisms and postures,” reported Victoria Barbatelli of the Denver Post.
The case originated when two dogs who had been reported for running at large charged a Brighton police officer, who fatally shot one of them, described as a yellow Lab mix.
While the Brighton police officers appeared to welcome the training, it was largely irrelevant to the reality that police officers encountering charging dogs close range are rarely going to have more than a split second to observe “mannerisms and postures.”
“Bites are assumed risk of a vet tech”
Edwards in March 2010 won yet another problematic ruling for dog attack victims on behalf of Spork, a 17-pound, 10-year-old miniature dachshund who facially disfigured veterinary technician Allyson Stone in Lafayette, Colorado, a 15-year veteran of vet tech work.
Edwards argued that, “Bites are just an assumed risk of a veterinary technician. It’s the name of the game.”
Lafayette Municipal Judge Roger Buchholz recommended that “Excluding animal care workers from the vicious dog ordinance is a reasonable provision that the Lafayette City Council might want to consider.”
Disagreeing that being badly bitten should be considered part of her job, Stone said she would “find another way to express my love for animals.”
Won “service dog” exemptions for pit bulls in Denver & Aurora
Edwards in May 2010 filed a class action lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the pit bull bans formerly in effect in both Denver and Aurora, an adjoining suburb, which forced both cities to introduce exemptions on behalf of pit bulls claimed by their owners to be “service dogs.”
Five years later, in May 2015, Edwards won a settlement in a dog-shot-by-police case in Erie, Colorado, that paid German shepherd owner Brittany Moore $40,000 and required Erie to introduce training for police officers parallel to the training introduced earlier in Brighton.
Edwards in March 2017 won a second case against the city of Aurora that obliged the animal control department to return a dog named Capone to residents Tito Serrano and Tracy Abbato, after DNA testing established that the dog––adopted from the Adams County animal shelter as a “German shepherd/Labrador mix”––was not legally a wolf or wolf hybrid.
Serrano and Abbato did, however, plead guilty in Aurora municipal court to not having Capone’s rabies inoculation and city registration tags up-to-date, and having a dog running at-large, reported Tammy Vigil for KDVR-TV, Denver.
Edwards lost her next round against the city of Aurora when in March 2018 a DNA test confirmed that a dog named Bandit who was impounded for biting a delivery driver was “100% American Staffordshire Terrier,” formerly one of the three pit bull types banned in Aurora, the city announced.
Bandit’s owner pleaded guilty, the city said, “to keeping an aggressive or dangerous animal; animal running at large; and possession of a restricted breed.”
Bandit was euthanized.
The much publicized case, however, helped to build momentum toward the January 11, 2021 city council repeal of the Aurora pit bull ban, which had been affirmed in a 2014 referendum by 64% of the city electorate.
Edwards’ represented animal owners in at least four high profile neglect cases.
In August 2008, for example, Edwards represented erstwhile horse rescuer Alesha Matchett of Wellington, Colorado. Matchett, after pleading guilty to a single count of misdemeanor cruelty, was allowed to keep 10 of 27 allegedly neglected horses and other animals who had been impounded by the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office.
Matchett and her nine-year-old son were evicted from the rented property a year later, shortly after Matchett was charged with driving under intoxication and eluding police.
Matchett died from smoke inhalation in a February 21, 2017 house fire in Ovid, Colorado.
Cattle neglect case
Edwards also represented Park County cattle rancher Vern Wagner, then 77, from whom the Colorado Department of Agriculture in May 2010 impounded 379 allegedly starving cattle after finding 143 dead cattle on his 130,000-acre ranch near Hartsel.
Wagner was allowed to keep about 1,000 cattle and 140 horses.
Most notoriously, Edwards in September 2012 represented rock climber Anthony Ortolani, 31, who was charged with cruelty “after leaving his German shepherd/Rottweiler mix, Missy, behind on the saddle between Mount Bierstadt and Mount Evans,” wrote Denver Post reporter Tom McGhee.
Injured dog left for eight days
“Missy was stranded for eight days,” McGhee continued, before hikers Scott and Amanda Washburn “found her bloodied and close to death on the ridge,” and, unable to bring her down alone, recruited an eight-member climbing team who carried her down through a blizzard two days later––a nine-hour operation.
Missy was abandoned, McGhee explained, when Ortolani took her climbing on the 14,000-foot-high slopes, a questionable decision at any time, “with the 19-year-old son of a friend. Bad weather was moving in, and the canine, whose feet were blistered, was unable to walk.”
Ortolani and the 19-year-old said they had tried to carry Missy, and had unsuccessfully sought help for her.
In lieu of a cruelty conviction, Ortolani accepted a guilty plea to violating a Clear Creek County ordinance.
Shelter fixed French bulldog
Edwards’ last widely publicized case appears to have been a September 2017 lawsuit filed against the Denver Animal Shelter for sterilizing a French bulldog who was among three dozen allegedly neglected French bulldogs impounded from show dog handler Marleen Puzak.
Twelve dead French bulldogs were also found at Puzak’s home.
French bulldog breeder Michelle Tippets had claimed to be the actual owner of the dog, but had not provided the Denver Animal Shelter with proof of ownership.
This case appears to have either been dropped or settled out of court.