Jimel Martyn McLean and Sabrina Robin Walton were ordered to pay $200 each in costs Thursday after pleading guilty previously to importing a live animal without a license. Magistrate Valdis Foldats ruled that no convictions be recorded against them.
The animal was a “sugar glider” that came to the public’s attention when it escaped its container and ran loose aboard a Cayman Airways flight from Miami on June 7, 2017.
In starting to give the facts of the case in Summary Court on Thursday, Crown counsel Greg Walcolm referred to the commotion the animal caused, with passengers screaming and jumping out of their seats. He said Ms. Walton acknowledged ownership of the animal, got up and found it, and put it in her pocket, returning to her seat.
He said the captain of the plane had sent an alert ahead and when the plane landed, Ms. Walton took the animal out of her handbag and handed it over to a waiting officer.
Mr. Walcolm began referring to an inspection of the defendants’ luggage when Mr. McLean’s attorney, Richard Barton, said he would be concerned if the Crown introduced facts that were in contention. He said there had been an agreement with Crown counsel Eleanor Fargin as to the basis of plea.
Magistrate Foldats pointed out that if the basis of plea had been written down instead of being agreed to orally, the matter would have proceeded more smoothly.
He also noted that the first charge against the defendants had not been proceeded with “and the court wants to know why.” That charge referred to a live “alien” animal. The difference in maximum penalty was “astounding,” he said – $500 and six months in prison for a “live’ animal, but $500,000 and four years for an “alien” animal.
Alien animals can do damage to Cayman’s flora and fauna, he pointed out. Good examples in Cayman were lionfish and green iguanas. He referred to an article published in the Cayman Compass about sugar gliders preying on parrots in Tasmania.
With Mr. Walcolm due in Grand Court, Ms. Fargin came to Magistrate Foldats’ court after a brief adjournment and she continued this matter.
She explained that the Crown would have had some legal difficulty with pursuing the offense as an importation of an alien animal because the Animals Law does not define alien. She believed she could have proved the matter by referring to other laws. However, there were other issues, including a potential abuse of process argument by the defense and a possible issue of inducement. It had been determined that it was not in the public interest to pursue the matter when both defendants were prepared to accept the alternative charge.
The magistrate said he thought he could take “judicial notice” of the fact that, “We don’t have these things here.”
After further discussion that included attorney Nicholas Dixey, acting for Ms. Walton, the magistrate accepted the matter involved a small, live animal getting away. There were other aspects of the story, but that is what he was dealing with in open court. Given the general public’s interest in the matter, it might seem as if this was an “artificial way of dealing with things,” he said, but it was a more pragmatic approach as it was the public purse that was being affected. Discussion in court was also educating the public as to what was not allowed, he added.
Ms. Walton had believed she was clear because she had declared the animal on her customs form, Mr. Dixey pointed out. She had bought it that day in a Miami pet store, where it was legal to purchase. It had been in a clear plastic container, with no attempt at concealment. The animal had gone through Miami customs and security.
On the flight, Ms. Walton had fallen asleep and did not realize the animal was loose until the commotion started. She then did the responsible thing.
Both she and Mr. McLean were kept in custody for 24 hours and then told that such imports would not be allowed in the future. They took that as a warning and did not think they would be charged.
Mr. Barton said it was widely known that his client was the son of East End MLA Arden McLean. There had been a most unpleasant exchange between them and the MLA grieved that his son was before the court, the attorney said. Arden McLean had removed himself from the courtroom so as not to be seen as exerting some influence, Mr. Barton added.
Jimel McLean had earlier pleaded guilty to an additional charge of importing a biological product without a license. That charge referred to vaccines for his dogs, Mr. Barton said. He said his client understood they would be forfeited, but asked that they not be destroyed, as they could be used by a veterinarian.
Neither defendant had any previous convictions, so the magistrate did not record a conviction for either. He conditionally discharged them for six months, meaning that if no further offense is committed in the next six months, that will be the end of the matter.