E. Brunswick veterinarian to appeal July conviction

Appellate Division will hear appeal on April 14

By daniel walsh

EAST BRUNSWICK — A local veterinarian will appeal his July conviction on 14 counts of cruelty to animals.

The Appellate Division of the state Superior Court will hear the appeal of East Brunswick veterinarian Dr. Howard Baker on April 14 in New Brunswick.

Judge Joyce Munkasci will preside over the case. A lawyer from the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office will represent the state during Baker’s appeal. No new witnesses are expected to appear.

Baker was convicted on July 12 in Old Bridge Municipal Court, where the case was held to avoid any conflicts of interest.

The court found him guilty on 14 of 15 counts of punching, shaking, and choking animals under his care at his practice at the Village Veterinary Hospital on Main Street from June 1996 to April 1997.

Judge Emery Z. Toth ordered Baker to pay $3,500 in fines, undergo a psychological evaluation, and complete 90 days of community service with the Middlesex County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).

Two months after Toth’s judgment, the New Jersey Board of Veterinary Examiners revoked his veterinarian’s license, ending his 22-year career.

When the trial began in the fall of 1998, there were 18 charges of animal cruelty, but several were dismissed due to duplications and a lack of live testimony.

Thirteen of the final complaints against Baker were filed by Michelle Rokke, a member and former investigator for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Rokke worked for Baker in his Main Street offices from June 1996 until June 1997 and allegedly witnessed his abuse of the animals during that tenure. The county SPCA filed the remaining two complaints.

Rokke’s videotape of Baker striking a Dalmatian named Dice Stacy was used as evidence in the case, and the tape subsequently became a focal point of the trial.

Baker’s lawyer, Michael Rosenbaum, argued that Baker was simply disciplining the animal after it tried to bite him.

Rosenbaum further questioned the credibility of Rokke and described her as someone who often lied about or exaggerated her descriptions of the alleged incidents of abuse based upon her feelings toward animals.

Rosenbaum did not return several phone calls for comment.

However, Toth ruled Rokke a credible witness, even though she misrepresented herself on her job application. Toth noted that Rokke filed only 16 complaints, whereas she observed Baker treating more than 200 animals.