Los Angeles Zoo's Elephant Exhibit Headed to Trial - NBC Southern California

Los Angeles Zoo's Elephant Exhibit Headed to Trial

The zoo is scheduled to open its Elephant exhibit by December



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    Children watch Billy, the only elephant currently at the Los Angeles Zoo, in his temporary exhibit after the Los Angeles City Council voted today to keep Billy at the zoo and continue construction of the $42 million Pachyderm Forest elephant exhibit on January 28, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. A parade of celebrities who oppose elephants in zoos fought to shut down the project and send Billy to a sanctuary facility, including Bob Barker, Cher, Lily Tomlin and Kevin Nealon. After the Pachyderm Forest was approved by the City Council in 2006, actor Robert Culp and real estate agent Aaron Leider sued the city to stop the project alleging that zoo officials abuse elephants but the lawsuit was thrown out by the Los Angeles Superior Court. When completed, the 3 1/2-acre Pachyderm Forest will house up to five Asian elephants and three of their offspring in an enclosure with a waterfall and two pools. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

    A taxpayer lawsuit spearheaded by the late actor Robert Culp that opposes the Los Angeles Zoo's $42 million elephant exhibit is headed toward trial, with a flurry of motions to be decided later this month.

    On Sept. 21, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John Shepard Wiley is scheduled to hear various issues in plaintiff Aaron Leider's case, including a proposed order that would prevent the transportation of any additional elephants to the zoo for three months, or until after the Nov. 2 trial is completed.

    The facility currently has one Asian pachyderm, Billy, who is in his early 20s.

    In the lawsuit filed in August 2007, Culp and Leider, a real estate agent, alleged the zoo withheld medical care, confined pachyderms in too small an area and used bull hooks and electric shocks to control them.

    They also argued that a larger exhibit would be a waste of taxpayer money.

    Wiley dismissed the lawsuit in May 2008, saying the issues should be decided in a legislative rather than a judicial forum.

    But last September, a three-justice panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal overturned Wiley's dismissal, ordering the case sent back for trial on whether maintaining elephants at the zoo violates statutes protecting taxpayers, as well as any penal code sections concerning alleged abuse of animals.

    The state Supreme Court declined to hear the city's appeal.

    Leider's attorney, David Casselman, says in his court papers that he has heard zoo officials plan to bring in up to four elephants just before the trial begins. So, he is asking Wiley to issue a preliminary injunction against the city.

    Meanwhile, lawyers for the City Attorney's Office are again asking Wiley to dismiss Leider's case, saying in court papers that he has failed to state a valid claim of a waste of taxpayer money by the city in building the exhibit. They say that even the Court of Appeal ruled that the only issue to be tried is whether the city made an illegal expenditure.

    City attorneys also want Wiley to limit or bar altogether observations of Billy and inspections of the elephant exhibit by experts hired by Leider. The lawyers say the inspections are not relevant to the lawsuit and would create a burden on the staff.

    Zoo spokesman Jason Jacobs said the exhibit, called Elephants of Asia, is scheduled to open in December. He said there will be additional elephants at the zoo by then, but does not know how many new ones there will be or when they will arrive.