Supreme Court denies Eckhart appeal

More bad news for former kennel owner Derbe Eckhart. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court today denied the appeal of his kennel license revocation. 

The one-sentence order came the morning after a Lehigh County jury found Eckhart, operator of the trouble-plagued Almost Heaven Kennel in Emmaus, guilty of two misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty. The jury acquitted him on four other cruelty counts and deadlocked on two others.

Jeffrey Conrad, Eckhart's attorney, told the Morning Call of Allentown, the timing of the high court order was "mighty coincidental."

Eckhart still has some big bills to pay: He owes the state $167,500 in penalties connected to the June 2009 kennel raid and the seizure of more than 200 dogs. Eckhart has not yet paid the penalty, which is being appealed in Commonwealth Court, the Call reports. He also owes the Department of Revenue more than $80,000 in unpaid state tax liens. It's unclear what kind of work Eckhart is doing since Judge Michael Steinberg forbid him from working around animals.

Meanwhile, a Lehigh County lawmaker who pressed the state to take further enforcement action against Eckhart following the 2008 kennel raid that led to the cruelty charges, said he is hopeful that "justice has been done."

"I am confident Judge Steinberg will order a sentence proportionate to the convictions, and I hope this verdict serves as a source of encouragement to prosecutors across Pennsylvania to vigorously pursue animal cruelty offenders," wrote Rep. Doug Reichley (R., Lehigh) in an email. 

After the removal of 56 sick and injured animals in the Oct. 2008 raid, Reichley urged then-Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff to examine whether there was further action the state could take to protect hundreds of animals, including dogs, cats, horses, guinea pigs. monkeys and birds, left behind. The Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement revoked Eckhart's kennel license two days after the raid, but allowed him to keep most of the animals pending the appeal. Further charges were filed when the bureau found Eckhart  - who continued to accumulate more dogs rather than reduce his numbers as he had agreed to - was violating the cease and desist order. That was just one of an array of summary charges heard by Judge Steinberg that Eckhart was found guilty of Monday.