By JOHN ROSSOMANDO
Special to Tri County
HONEY BROOK BOROUGH - Magisterial District Judge Michael J. Cabry III acquitted a Honey Brook veterinarian of 12 counts of animal cruelty last Thursday morning.
Cabry decided the prosecution had failed to prove that Dr. Edward Frankel, 68, of Honey Brook, had hit several dogs using a closed fist with the intent to harm the animals in question in the case.
A sizeable group of Frankel's friends and clients assembled in the courtroom to show their support.
"It very often comes down to the old school versus the new school, and the doctor's proceeding to do the right thing," Cabry said in his verbal decision. "I cannot come to a conclusion without reasonable doubt; therefore, I find the defendant not guilty."
Frankel, who ran the Honey Brook Animal Hospital for 34 years, prior to selling it to and ultimately being fired by Dr. Lisa Pasquarello earlier this year for alleged animal cruelty. The Chester County SPCA filed animal cruelty charges against him on July 27.
Despite Frankel's legal troubles, he has managed to maintain a loyal clientele who dispute the allegations against him, and more than 100 Honey Brook Animal Hospital patients he has served over the years have followed him to his current Main Line Animal Hospital practice.
Assistant District Attorney Kathleen Wright questioned defense witness Melissa Dietrich, formerly the animal hospital's manager, regarding the treatment of several animals that allegedly were mistreated in Frankel's care. Dietrich worked for Frankel for more than 19 years.
She attempted to impinge upon Dietrich's credibility as a witness by insinuating she had a financial reason to distort her testimony because Frankel has her as a beneficiary. Wright also asked her about the large amount of time she spent alone with Frankel as well as their behavior with each other, but Cabry became visibly irritated.
"You are heading down a road that I don't think you should be heading," Cabry said.
The evidence-gathering process against Frankel began in March 2006 after Samantha Kasinger filed a complaint with the Chester County SPCA after she claimed to have seen Frankel hitting and tugging on the choker collar around a dog named Gracie to the point the animal was having trouble breathing, in February.
Dietrich testified Kasinger came into her office in February, upset about the treatment she said she saw Frankel administering to Gracie, saying she couldn't work for Frankel any longer.
"We never trust the owner's collars, and we use collars similar to the choke collars used in obedience classes," Dietrich said. "We use them for all large dogs between 85 and 135 lbs."
Wright questioned Dietrich's claims that she had never seen Frankel abuse the animals in his care.
"If you spent a fair amount of time in your office, how could you see what was going on in all the treatment rooms at the same time?" Wright asked.
Dietrich responded, saying she frequently spent a lot of time walking around the clinic, and she had always seen Frankel treating the animals humanely during her work with him.
Frankel testified he had a long relationship with Pasquerello, dating from her childhood.
He later followed the progress of her career and later agreed to sell her the practice in 2005 after a prior verbal offer to sell the practice to another veterinarian collapsed.
He said Pasquerello began working for him in July 2005. The two negotiated a contract whereby she would pay Frankel $700,000 over time for the practice, that she would pay rent to Frankel's wife and that he would remain under contract as an employee for 10 years with a $100,000 annual salary. A non-competition clause prevented Frankel from practicing veterinary medicine within 20 miles of the Honey Brook Animal Hospital, which Frankel said he complied with.
Frankel's attorney, Thomas Bergstrom, hinged the defense around what he and his client saw as Pasquarello's alleged motive to support the animal cruelty charges in an effort to get out of her contractual obligations.
Bergstrom said in order for his client to be found guilty under the law, he would need to be found guilty of wantonly or cruelly treating the animals in his care.
"It is a tragedy that after 43 years, Dr. Frankel finds himself sitting here in this courtroom charged with abusing animals," he said. "There are plenty of doubts in this case, and one thing is, Dr. Frankel has a 43-year history of treating animals humanely, and 34 years here in Honey Brook without a blemished reputation and with an impeccable reputation."
He questioned why Pasquarello would have agreed to purchase the Honey Brook Animal Hospital from Frankel and keep him employed with a $100,000 annual salary if she considered him abusive to the animals in his care.
During the hearing, the prosecution and defense sparred back and forth between wanting to confine testimony to the six or seven dogs in question under the complaint and seeking to make Frankel's overall 43-year record the issue.
Frankel said he finds it peculiar that all of the evidence or testimony against him dates from the beginning of Pasquarello's tenure, and there hadn't been any prior complaints against him.
Wright rebutted Bergstrom's statement, saying Kasinger's decision to file a complaint with the Chester County SPCA had nothing to do with Pasquarello, and Pasquerello's practice had already been significantly harmed by the bad publicity.
"This case is not about how Dr. Pasquerello has been crucified in the media, and I am not sure her practice will survive with all of the things the defendant's supporters have said, and if it does, it will be a miracle," Wright said.
In spite of the acquittal, Frankel is unsatisfied.
"I am not relieved," Frankel said after the hearing. "This whole thing is a travesty."
Chester County SPCA spokesman Chuck McDevitt said the verdict disappoints him, but his organization had done everything it could to conduct a fair, thorough investigation.