New trial date set for dog custody case in Steamboat
March 20, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A new trial date has been set to decide who gets to keep Sitka, the embattled Steamboat Springs husky that has become the center of a legal custody dispute.
Routt County Judge James Garrecht on Tuesday had a conference call with the attorneys handling the case.
"This is the oldest case on my docket, and we need to get this thing moving one way or another," Garrecht said.
The trial is set to begin at 9 a.m. April 27.
The custody dispute started developing Feb. 1, 2017, when Steamboat resident Ashlee Anderson’s husky got loose and was taken to the Routt County Humane Society. After scanning Sitka for a microchip, it was discovered Sitka had lived in Cañon City, where she was owned by Michael Gehrke for about three years.
Gehrke sued Anderson to get his dog back, and Anderson was able to keep custody of Sitka until the trial, which was most recently scheduled for last Friday.
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Anderson's attorney Emily Kelley has been dealing with health issues and asked to delay the trial. Garrecht allowed the delay as long as Sitka was returned to Gehrke.
Kelley, who has been handling the case pro bono, has stepped down as Anderson's primary attorney. Kelley will now be helping Aurora attorney Erika Brotzman prepare for the trial.
Brotzman will also be handling the case free of charge.
Gehrke is being represented by attorneys from The Animal Law Center in Wheat Ridge.
The case could end up costing Anderson more than Sitka if Anderson loses the case.
Garrecht warned that Anderson runs the risk of having to pay Gehrke's legal fees.
Anderson's legal team has stated the case is about more than just Sitka and property rights, and Colorado courts should take into account what is in the best interest of the animal.
With the case focusing on an animal, the sound of a rooster crowing in the background of the conference call did not seem totally out of place.
"It isn't often I hear a rooster in the background," Garrecht said.
Garrecht concluded Tuesday's conference call by asking Kelley to file legal documents that support her position, including any opinions that have been made in higher courts.
The April 27 trial will not utilize a jury, and it is expected to last the entire day.