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On May 19th 2005 the NJSPCA responded to the home of Marlene Kess residing in East Orange NJ.  There were 21 large contractor trash bags stuffed with dead cats in the backyard and 38 cats roaming the inside of the home.  No animal abuse charges could be filed for the over 200 dead cats due to contamination of the evidence.  The State NJSPCA  Police did charge her with 38 counts of improper shelter for allowing cats with deadly diseases to comingle with healthy cats.  Most likely the 200 plus dead cats died as a result of the improper living conditions.

In 2005 Ms. Kess was found guilty in East Orange Municipal Court by Judge Hill Harvey and sentence to over $14,000 in fines with over 1100 days of community service and 3 weeks in jail.

Ms. Kess appealed the matter to the Essex County Superior Court and lost.  She then went to the appellate division and lost.  The Appellate Division did affirm a guilty charge on all 38 criminal counts of animal abuse.  On a technical mistake they dismissed the jail time and sent the case back to Judge Sivilli in Essex County Superior court for a sentence review. 

On April 15, 2009, with the case being over 4 years old, Judge Sivilli reduced the fine to $2500 with just 30 days community service.

While the NJSPCA is not happy with the minimal fines issued to Ms. Kess, it does set for the record she was found guilty on 38 counts of animal cruelty each count carrying a disorderly persons charge.  Ms. Kess did move out of the State of New Jersey and now resides in a Borough of New York City.

August 2009: The town of East Orange is now having hearing about the $11,500 in fines that they will have to give back.


Judge tosses jail term for East Orange ‘Cat Lady’

By CHAD HEMENWAY – Staff Writer

The Star Ledger


A Superior Court judge today threw out the 21-day jail sentence given an animal rescue activist who dumped 200 dead cats in her East Orange yard and housed dozens of live ones in inhumane conditions.

Judge Nancy Sivilli said she was barred by law from giving jail time to Marlene Kess because of an error that had been made by the municipal court judge at sentencing in August.

But she upheld Kess’ conviction on violation of municipal ordinances and state animal cruelty laws and imposed $12,599 in fines and 1,140 days of community service. Kess has been free on bail while appealing her municipal sentence.

Calling Kess’ treatment of the cats “horrendous and inhumane,” Sivilli noted that her State Street home was “next door to a day-care center, exposing children to these dead and diseased animals.”

Kess, 57, was the longtime operator of KittyKind, a Manhattan organization that took in ailing and homeless cats. But Kess, who moved to East Orange from Manhattan in July 2004, admits she took in so many animals she became overwhelmed.

On May 19, 2005, East Orange health officials and personnel from animal welfare agencies went to her home in response to complaints about foul odors. In the yard, they found 21 garbage bags, each containing the rotting carcasses of about 10 cats.

The officials found 48 live cats in the home, 38 of them in one room. Many of them were suffering from feline leukemia and respiratory diseases and ended up being euthanized.

Kess was convicted in East Orange Municipal Court in August of 38 counts of violating state animal cruelty laws and also of violating three municipal ordinances. The state offense carries a penalty of up to six months in jail. But Municipal Court Judge Karimu Hill-Harvey imposed no prison time under the state law, instead sentencing Kess to 21 days in jail for violating the ordinances.

Kess appealed the verdict, arguing among other points that the jail sentence was too severe and that her attorney had not been given enough time to prepare for the trial.

Sivilli rejected all of those arguments. She said the law required that she impose her own sentence if she upheld the trial court’s verdict, but she said her sentence could not be greater than that imposed by the municipal judge.