Judge orders parties to settle Las Vegas puppy case

A Nevada judge blocked a planned puppy raffle for at least 45 days, imposed a gag order, and told lawyers Wednesday to settle their ownership tug-of-war over 27 dogs rescued from a Las Vegas pet shop fire more than seven weeks ago.

Clark County District Court Judge Kenneth Cory also banned television cameras from future court hearings. And he set a May 5 date for a resolution of the dispute between Prince and Princess pet shop managing owner Donald Thompson, Clark County and the nonprofit shelter where the puppies have been kept since the Jan. 27 fire.

The judge said he was trying to tamp down a whirl of attention involving allegations that Thompson's shop owner wife and a co-defendant tried to torch the store with the animals still in their cages, and advocates' competing efforts to find good homes for the dogs. Most are puppies.

"I am going to try to remove whatever effect this matter has become in the news from what is best for the dogs," Cory said from the bench. He didn't ban reporters from future court proceedings, but said the parties can't inform the media about settlement talks.

"You all will get together. You will do so immediately," the judge told attorneys for Thompson, the county and The Animal Foundation. "If you cannot do so, advise me, and I will bring you into my chambers where you will sit until you get this done."

Cory acknowledged that his order was unusual. But he told a courtroom packed with animal rights advocates, lawyers and reporters that he didn't want any more taxpayer resources spent on a dispute that has generated nearly daily headlines and photos of fuzzy faced puppies in metal kennel cages.

Officially, Cory granted a preliminary injunction that Thompson's attorney, Jacob Hafter, sought when he filed a lawsuit March 7 to block The Animal Foundation from raffling the dogs in a $250-per-ticket fundraiser.

County officials said Thompson failed to declare his ownership rights in time, and foundation executive director Christine Robinson got Clark County Commission approval for the raffle. Robinson called the fundraiser the fairest way to choose among the many people who want to adopt the dogs.

Hafter said Thompson, as managing partner in the pet store, is the rightful owner and has the authority to turn over the dogs to a nonprofit rescue group called A Home 4 Spot for placement.

Prosecutors say store security video shows Thompson's estranged wife, Gloria Eun Hye Lee, and another man, Kirk Bills, setting the fire for the insurance money.

Lee and Bills are jailed on $310,000 bail each, awaiting trial July 7 on felony arson, burglary, conspiracy and animal cruelty charges. They have pleaded not guilty.