BRYANT — A judge has made a ruling in The Great Goat Hullabaloo.
It's time to update the score.
Village of Bryant: 1
Kaufmann goats: 0.
Is that the final tally? Maybe. Maybe not.
But right now, in the wake of the legal decision, Celia Kaufmann frets about her beloved goats.
"I can't think," she says. "I'm just crying."
In July, we discussed the goat plight. Kaufmann and husband, Larry, long have lived in this Fulton County village, which is home to 200 residents and one roadhouse. For two decades, the couple has kept goats as pets in their backyard, which abuts a woodsy ravine. The current goats are Mollie, Hampy and Bandit.
The trouble: goats, along with all hooved livestock, are prohibited within village limits. That's been the village code for 20 years, but no one ever complained about the Kaufmann goats, until last year. It's unclear who complained, but the village wrote a citation for “livestock within the village of Bryant," punishable by a fine of $100 to $250 a day.
The case has straggled along as the Kaufmanns hired an attorney and tried to find legal wriggle room to keep their pets. Meanwhile in the case, the judge and the village attorney have been patient in trying to come up with some sort of solution.
The livestock ban is black and white, Still, the Kaufmann's attorney, Michael Doubet of Peoria, came up with a nifty last-ditch argument. He pointed to the doctrine of laches, which essentially asserts that a party slept on its legal rights and therefore has forfeited them. In this case, the suggestion was that since Bryant never enforced the livestock ordinance, even as the Kaufmanns kept goats for two decades, the village had lost the right to cite the couple now.
But, in certainly the longest goat-related legal case in recent area history, village attorney Trygve Meade pointed to an Illinois appellate ruling. In municipal cases, non-action itself does not invoke the doctrine of laches; rather, an "affirmative act" has to be involved. In other words, Bryant would've had to have done something overt — I don't know what that could have been: perhaps the Village Board making a pinky pledge vowing to never bother the Kaufmanns and/or any goats? — to essentially waive its right to cite the livestock ordinance.
In the end, as the Kaufmanns just found out, Fulton County Associate Judge William Rasmussen sided with the village, saying, "There was no evidence presented of any action taken by the village where the defendants could reasonably believed that the village would not enforce (the) ordinance."
The judge told the village attorney to prepare a sentencing order. As drafted, the order calls for the Kaufmanns to pay a $100 fine and $100 in court costs. Or, they have 90 days to appeal.
Celia Kaufmann says the couple isn't sure what to do, so they haven't yet signed the order yet. But, as of now, she can conjure no solid grounds for an appeal.
However, maybe there's still a sliver of hope for the goats.
The animals range in age from 9 to 12. The goat lifespan is usually about 14 years. The Kaufmanns don't want to host any more goats, just keep the three for the rest of their goat lifetimes.
The order does not specifically mention a directive regarding the goats, like get rid of them pronto or else. Of course, with the livestock ordinance still in effect, the village could write another citation. But, you never know: maybe the village has lost its appetite regarding goat complaints and citations.
Still, if the Kaufmanns are simply hoping for the village to again turn a blind eye — and for several years — that could be an expensive bet to lose. Instead, maybe the couple could politely and quietly ask the village to rewrite the goat ordinance and somehow grandfather in Mollie, Hampy and Bandit.
We're not talking about a major human-rights issue or a big-picture legal precedence. We're talking about three goats.
If anyplace can make this work out in a reasonable and peaceable way, I'd bet on Bryant.
PHIL LUCIANO is a Journal Star columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/philluciano and (309) 686-3155. Follow him on Twitter.com/LucianoPhil.