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Fresno Superior Court to rule on petition to #FreeTheFresnoElephants

By Spencer Lo

Today in Nolwazi, Amahle, and Vusmusi’s habeas corpus case, NhRP Staff Attorney Jake Davis argued before Fresno Superior Court Judge Mark Cullers in a hearing on a motion we filed asking the Court to transfer the elephants’ case back to the San Francisco Superior Court, where we’d originally filed their habeas corpus petition (under California law we have the right to file a habeas corpus petition in any county. Before beginning any new litigation, we carefully consider all aspects of it, including where to file to best serve our clients’ interests).

The San Francisco Superior Court had previously ordered the case transferred to the Fresno Superior Court on the basis of a rule that permits a court to transfer a case to the county in which the habeas petitioner is confined if the habeas corpus petition “challenges the conditions of an inmate’s confinement.” This reason for transfer, the NhRP argues in our motion, is inapplicable because the petition, importantly, does not challenge the conditions of the elephants’ confinement at Fresno Chaffee Zoo, but rather the legality of their imprisonment itself. The NhRP filed our motion pursuant to a rule that requires the “receiving court”—the Fresno Superior Court—to order the case returned to the “transferring court”—the San Francisco Superior Court—if the former determines the latter’s “reason for transfer is inapplicable.”

Had the NhRP intended to challenge the conditions of the elephants’ confinement, the petition would have sought to improve the conditions at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, as Jake explained during the hearing. Instead, the NhRP’s petition seeks the elephants’ discharge and release to an appropriate elephant sanctuary. This is because—as the petition’s core allegation makes clear—Nolwazi, Amahle, and Vusmusi’s confinement violates their common law right to bodily liberty by depriving them of the ability to meaningfully exercise their autonomy and extraordinary cognitive complexity.

Adam Hofmann, arguing for the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, argued that the NhRP’s petition does challenge the conditions of the elephants’ confinement and that this case belongs in Fresno because that’s where the elephants are located.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Judge Cullers denied the NhRP’s motion, stating he agreed with San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Ulmer’s ruling (which granted the Fresno Chaffee Zoo’s motion to transfer venue) and what the Fresno Chaffee Zoo had argued. This means the case will stay in the Fresno Superior Court, where Judge Cullers will rule on the merits of the NhRP’s habeas corpus petition. We look forward to Judge Cullers doing so and to the possibility of arguing in Fresno for Amahle, Nolwazi, and Vusmusi’s freedom. It remains to be seen exactly how the mischaracterization of this case as a conditions-of-confinement case will affect us going forward. But, as always, we’ll be prepared for various outcomes and to continue the fight for our clients’ right to bodily liberty wherever it might take us.

For a detailed timeline of Nolwazi, Amahle, and Vusmusi’s case, court filings, and decisions, visit this page. Find all the latest on the fight for Nolwazi, Amahle, and Vusmusi’s freedom and ways to take action on our #FreeTheFresnoElephants campaign page.





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