James Leachman, the Billings-area rancher charged with animal abuse for alleged mistreatment of a large herd of horses, has been denied a public defender.
Yellowstone County Justice of the Peace Pedro Hernandez filed an order Friday denying Leachman’s request for a court-appointed attorney at taxpayer expense.
Hernandez found that Leachman, a well-known rancher who lost most of his property and business in a federal foreclosure last year, “has the financial means” to hire a private attorney.
Leachman is charged with seven counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty and seven alternative counts of the same charge. He has pleaded not guilty. Trial is set for June 3.
If convicted, the charges together carry a maximum sentence of seven years in custody and a $7,000 fine.
Leachman appeared in Justice Court on Tuesday for a scheduling hearing with a public defender, but the issue of whether he would receive a court-appointed attorney had not been settled.
David Duke, who manages the local public defender office, initially refused to accept Leachman’s case. Hernandez issued an order requiring the defender office to appear in the case until the judge had reviewed Leachman’s formal request for public assistance.
Hernandez issued the order denying Leachman’s request Friday morning. Leachman will now have to hire a private attorney or represent himself.
The animal cruelty charges allege that Leachman abandoned more than 800 horses on property east of Billings. Some of the horses died and some were euthanized.
Authorities recently conducted a roundup and auction sale of the remaining horses. Leachman’s son was among the buyers, paying $35,000 for 66 of the horses.
Leachman has since turned those horses loose on the same property where the roundup took place.