Goats kept the Monroe Muncipal Court tied up for several hours Thursday morning. Not goats physically in the courtroom, but whether or not goats have been been found continually at large in the Walton Street neighborhood in downtown Monroe.
The issue, between the City of Monroe and Sandra Shurling of 208 Walton Street, was whether or not her four goats were habitually at large during the 16 month period leading up to April 2017. Shurling was hit with 28 charges relating to two instances, for two goats being at large on Sept. 12, 2016 and four on Sept. 16, 2016. Each goat carried with it several charges, one for being out of her property, one for being on someone else’s property, one for being a nuisance and another for damages.
Because of alleged conflicts of interest, the city had to bring in a special prosecutor, namely Michael Waldrop of Waldrop & Bootcheck, LLC out of Conyers. An outside judge also was required for the same reason and Lori Duff, municipal court judge for the City of Loganville, took the bench for the three plus hour trial. Shurling said she also could not get a local attorney to represent her and had to go outside the area with “Jack” Nebl of John Frederick Nebl & Associates out of Eatonton taking on her defense.
Two neighbors testified that the goats do routinely get out and encroach on their property, sometimes eating plants and defecating in their yards. The two complainants who testified were Sally Eckles and Mark Hayes, the neighbors who own the properties on each side of Shurling’s home. Also testifying for the city were Lt. Clay Edmonson, who is the City Marshal, and an officer with Walton County Animal Control, who had been responsible for corralling the animals on Sept. 16.
At the outset, Waldrop removed some of the counts because of “insufficient evidence” to prove the specific incidents, but Eckles and Edmonson’s testimony did support that at least two goats were out of Shurling’s yard and in Eckles’ yard on Sept. 12 and the testimony of Edmonson and a representative from Animal Control was enough for the city to meet the burden of proof that four also were out on Sept, 16. What Shurling’s attorney said the objective was, however, was to restore “Peace in the Valley.” Shurling said that had actually been achieved, “Until they received subpoenas to appear in court. Now they won’t talk to me,” she said.
During their testimony, both Eckles and Hayes did admit that their grandchildren, and children in the case of Hayes, do play together with Shurling’s and enjoy seeing the goats. Eckles said they do not mind that Shurling has the goats, but they do object to the goats being off her property.
“It does not bother us that Sandra has goats,” she said. “All we’ve ever asked is that she constrains them in her property. On a number of occasion we have had to rearrange our schedules because the goats were out and it concerns us that the goats could hurt themselves.”
Eckles and Hayes testified that there was a fencing system of sorts, but it did not always keep the goats in. Hayes said he has has since put up a six foot wooden privacy fence that has solved the problem for him.
When Shurling testified, she acknowledged that there were occasions that the goats had got out, but said on one occasion it was when a tree on Eckles’ property came down and pulled down the fence, on another it was when someone had turned off her electric fence and left the gate open. Her attorney asked that almost all the charges be dropped, or constrained into just two charges for the two occasions that the city had proven that the goats were indeed out. That request was not successful. However, Duff said damages really could only be proven in one instance where Eckles and Edmonson testified that they had both seen the goats eating the plants on Eckles’ property. That left either 17 or 11 charges, depending on whether or not the counts of goats being off Shurling’s property could be combined with goats being on a property other than her own.
On behalf of the city, Waldrop requested Shurling be given 6 months probation on each charge and a $500 charge on each count – which would have totaled a fine of $8,500 and eight and a half years of probation, or $5,500 and five and a half years probation, depending on the number of counts adopted for sentencing. In addition, he asked that she either get rid of the goats within 10 days, by May 21, or instal a fence that did not allow for the goats to escape.
“If she chooses to keep the goats, and that’s her right, on behalf of the city, I ask that if the goats get out, her probation be revoked and she serves 30 days in jail for each instance,” Waldrop said.
Duff, however, was not quite as harsh in sentencing. She eventually sentenced Shurling to a fine of $200 on each count of 11 charges, totaling $2,200, and a total probation period of 12 months. She also gave Shurling 60 days to either get rid of the goats or get a fence that kept them constrained.
“If what we’re looking for is peace in the valley, good fences make for good neighbors,” Duff said before adding 25 hours of community service to be served in some sort of animal shelter. Duff said she was concerned that Shurling did not seem to accept responsibility for her actions and she needed to experience what it was like when you have to clean up behind animals that are not yours.
“I love my neighbor’s dog, but I don’t like it when it poops in my yard,” Duff said, adding that what type of fence Shurling erected, whether wooden, chain link or otherwise, was not important. “It just needs to be an effective containment system for those goats.”
Waldrop said he was happy with the outcome for the city. Shurling, however, was not happy with it. She said she felt she was being persecuted and that it was political because of previous differences she had with the city attorney, Paul Rosenthal.
“I have a neighbor who has a dog that is always out in the street and has actually bitten people on several occasions. It bit my dog once. It even had to be quarantined. He has been cited eight times, but has never been summoned to court like I was,” she said. She did, however, say that she would be putting up the fence she was required to and would be reinstalling her electric fence. Two of her goats have had babies and she now has six to keep contained.