- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 11, 2014

LAS VEGAS (AP) - A judge in Las Vegas extended a temporary ban Tuesday on a plan to raffle 27 puppies rescued from a pet shop fire, at least until he hears testimony from a man who claims store ownership and property rights over the animals.

Donald Thompson will have to post an $8,000 bond to cover the cost of keeping the animals at the Lied Animal Shelter, Clark County District Court Judge Kenneth Cory said as he set a March 19 hearing for Thompson to appear.

Thompson’s attorney, Jacob Hafter, said outside court that he expects Thompson will post the bond.

The judge made it clear he thinks Hafter and lawyers for Clark County and the nonprofit that runs the shelter, The Animal Foundation, should try to settle a civil lawsuit filed by Thompson, who claims he is the managing owner of the Prince and Princess pet store.

“What the law can do may not be the best for the puppies or the parties,” Cory warned. “If this matter proceeds, it won’t be the purview of this court to determine whose home is better.”

The two sides differ on what’s best for the puppies - and who should choose new homes for them. The animals have been cared for at the Lied Animal Shelter since they were rescued from the Jan. 27 fire.

Authorities allege the fire was arson, set by Thompson’s estranged wife, Gloria Eun Hye Lee, and another man, Kirk Bills.

Amid intense interest in the criminal case and the disposition of the animals, county commissioners gave to OK last week for the foundation to raffle the dogs in a $250-per-ticket fundraiser open to the public.

The raffle was called off Friday, after Hafter filed a civil lawsuit for Thompson. He claimed the county and the foundation conspired to steal the puppies from Thompson and sell them for their own benefit.

Deputy Clark County District Attorney Steven Sweikert and foundation attorney Lisa Zastrow argued Tuesday that Thompson hasn’t properly demonstrated a stake in the store and that he lost ownership rights by waiting more than a month to assert his claim.

The foundation, meanwhile, spent money, time and effort caring for the dogs, Zastrow said.

Hafter said Thompson, as managing partner in the pet store, is the rightful owner and has the authority to turn the dogs over to a nonprofit rescue group called A Home 4 Spot for placement.

Lee was arrested after the fire. Bills was arrested several days later in Crown Point, Ind. Each has been indicted in Las Vegas on arson, conspiracy and attempted animal cruelty charges. Lee has pleaded not guilty. Her trial is scheduled in July.

Bills is scheduled for arraignment Wednesday. His attorney, Roger Bailey, said he plans to plead not guilty.

Prosecutors say store security video shows Lee collecting files while Bills splashes liquid from gasoline cans around the shop and the puppy cages and then setting it afire. Officials say sprinklers doused flames until firefighters arrived and carried the dogs to safety.

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