There’s a chance for a plea deal for two people associated with a Stanislaus County egg farm where authorities found an estimated 50,000 hens without feed two years ago. More than 40,000 hens died.
Defendants Andy Yi Keunh Cheung and Lien Tuong Diep have been charged with one felony count of animal cruelty each. Their preliminary hearing was scheduled to start this week, but Judge Thomas Zeff postponed it until Sept. 23.
The defendants made a brief court appearance Wednesday morning. The judge also scheduled them to return to court Sept. 4 for a pretrial hearing.
Deputy Public Defender Marlon Simon, who represents Diep, told the judge they would like to return Sept. 4 because they’re hopeful a resolution can be reached with prosecutors by then.
If not, the preliminary hearing could proceed as scheduled. The judge would determine whether there’s enough evidence for the defendants to stand trial at the conclusion of the hearing, which is estimated to last one day.
Cheung was the owner of A&L Poultry on South Carpenter Road about a half-mile south of Fulkerth Road, west of Turlock. Public records indicate Diep operated Lucky Transportation Inc., a Ceres-based hauling company for wholesale poultry products.
Animal rights groups said they rescued 4,460 hens that survived, but about 460 of them died afterward because they were too weak or sick. Of the 40,000-plus hens that died, about a third starved, and the rest were euthanized because of their poor condition, according to the Stanislaus Animal Services Agency.
At the time, authorities estimated the birds had not been fed for two weeks. The Animal Services Agency discovered the unfed hens in February 2012 after it received a complaint about the farm.
Martha Carlton-Magaña, Cheung’s defense attorney, has said her client did nothing criminal and was practicing within the standards and practices set by the industry.
A&L Poultry had been in the process of shutting down its egg production operations. Carlton-Magaña has said an attempt to hand over the hens and avoid the usual business practice of euthanizing them resulted in an unacceptable situation that the egg farm did not intend and profoundly regrets.
An animal rights activist had made arrangements with A&L Poultry to pick up hens that were intended to be euthanized, according to Carlton-Magaña. But she says the activist didn’t pick up the hens.
Three animal rescue groups have filed a civil lawsuit against A&L Poultry, Cheung and Diep. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary in Stockton; Animal Place, based in Grass Valley; and Farm Sanctuary, which is based in New York state and has a farm in Glenn County, north of Sacramento.
The plaintiffs and defendants in the civil lawsuit are scheduled to return to court July 28 for a case management conference in Stanislaus Superior Court.