For years, the Los Angeles Zoo has been under a court order requiring it to exercise its three elephants on soft ground and not use electric shocks or barbed sticks on them. On Thursday, that court order was overturned in a unanimous decision by the California Supreme Court that animal activists are decrying. A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge issued the injunction against the zoo in 2012 in response to a taxpayer lawsuit alleging animal cruelty. But in what the Los Angeles Times calls a "highly technical ruling" overturning the injunction, the state's highest court said a taxpayer lawsuit (which uses civil law rules) can't be used to address criminal conduct. The taxpayer lawsuit began in 2007 when an LA resident sued over what he said was abusive treatment of the elephants, also including the use of chains and drugs, Courthouse News Service reports.
A lawyer who worked on the case, for free, for more than five years says he'll attempt to find another way to get a similar injunction against the zoo, or request that the state legislature overturn the ruling. "I thought we had done something here to move the ball forward and instead the Supreme Court has allowed the zoo to take a step into the Dark Ages," he says. The Supreme Court explained in its ruling that by obtaining the injunction in such a way, the court did not allow the zoo to have a jury trial or the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The barbed sticks known as bull hooks have since been banned entirely in California, and for its part, the zoo says that it has never used and will never use them or electric shocks as disciplinary tools for its elephants, and that it will continue to follow the court order despite it being overturned. (Read more elephants stories.)