Bear activist’s trial put off

| 25 May 2012 | 12:08

VERNON — With some two dozen people patiently awaiting the court proceedings for Vernon bear activist Susan Kehoe and more than 90 minutes after court went into session Tuesday afternoon, Municipal Court Judge James Devine decided to postpone the case for six to seven weeks.

For the second time in about three years Kehoe was charged with feeding black bears on her property in the Lake Wanda section that borders Wawayanda State Park. As a result of the first offense, she was given a warning as required by New Jersey law. Pending the outcome of the second charge, if found guilty, she faces a fine of up to $1,000.

She received the second citation on Jan. 11 of this year by a state conservation officer, who, with his captain, was present in the courtroom on Tuesday.

Kehoe’s attorney, Daniel Perez of Newton, is arguing that the law against feeding bears is not fairly enforced, since hunters are permitted to use food as bait for bears while hunting them. Perez is questioning why enticing bears with food to shoot them with guns in legal, however, enticing the same bears with food to shoot them with a camera is illegal.

Checking on jurisdiction In announcing the postponement Judge Devine addressed both the defense and prosecuting attorneys and said, “I need to know from the two of you whether this court has jurisdiction” to hear and act on this case.

Following the postponement, Kehoe and Perez met with reporters and photographers in front of the municipal building. According to Perez, state Division of Fish and Wildlife personnel are intentionally using the statute to target his client because of the positions she has taken against the bear hunts.

Double standard? “You can’t say hunters can feed bears but the rest of us can’t," said Perez. "Either it applies to everyone or it applies to no one.”

Asked about why he thought Kehoe was not charged with the Vernon Township Bear Ordinance #92-93, which strictly prohibits feeding bears and is more severe than the state law, Perez said that he was not aware of the ordinance.

The 1992 Vernon Township law states that “Any person violating this ordinance shall be fined not less than $100 nor more than $1,000 and be subject to imprisonment in the Sussex County Jail or community service for not more than 90 days.”

Although the law remains on the township’s books, it is unclear whether the Vernon Township Bear Ordinance is actually enforced and why Kehoe was not charged with violating township law.