The federal judge charged with determining the fate of the last horse slaughterhouse in the country said Monday he has no jurisdiction to make any further decisions in the case until a federal appeals court rules on an appeal by The Humane Society of the United States. Judge Frederick Kapala of the U.S. District Court in Rockford issued a statement saying the court is “divested of jurisdiction” in the case until the appeals court rules on whether the HSUS can intervene in the case. Intervention would essentially give the group the same status as a defendant and would allow it to call and cross-examine witnesses. Kapala denied the HSUS' motion to intervene on June 1, and the group appealed that decision June 19. At issue is whether Belgium-based Cavel International, the last horse slaughterhouse in the country, can continue slaughtering horses at its DeKalb plant for human consumption. While a small percentage of the horse meat is sold to U.S. zoos, most is shipped to Europe and Asia, where it is sold in restaurants and supermarkets. A law banning the slaughter of horses for human consumption was signed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich on May 24, and Cavel filed suit the next day, claiming among other things that the law interferes with international commerce and unfairly protects a specific species of livestock based on the morals of a minority group. Attorneys in the case said Tuesday they were surprised by Kapala's decision to back off until the appeals court rules. He had been scheduled to make a decision by Thursday. “We literally have no idea what the judge is doing at this point,” HSUS spokesman Jon Lovvorn said. “This order is not something we have ever seen before in this circumstance. ... We've filed a lot of these over the past 10 years, and I've never seen a judge stop everything because of one.” DeKalb County Assistant State's Attorney John Farrell, who is defending the law alongside lawyers from the Illinois Attorney General's Office, said the order puts the case “in limbo” until the appeals court makes its ruling. He said he doesn't know what the immediate impact of the decision may be, since a temporary restraining order (TRO) that allowed Cavel to continue operations while the case was being tried expires Thursday. “We were hoping to have a decision before then,” Farrell said. “We don't know what impact this will have on the TRO.” Cavel attorney J. Philip Calabrese said he asked Kapala Tuesday to extend the order and allow Cavel to continue slaughtering horses until the appeal has been decided. “With any luck, we'll have a decision by Thursday on that,” he said. Calabrese said the timing of the HSUS appeal was suspect, since there was a second hearing in between the denial of intervention and the filing of the appeal. “The thing to appreciate is the sequence of events,” he said. “They didn't appeal (immediately), they didn't put the court on notice that they were planning to appeal. ... It's really just gamesmanship and litigation tactics to put Cavel out of business this week.” HSUS spokesman Lovvorn said the appeal is a standard response to a denial for intervention, and said it's not clear what is happening in the case at this point. “At some point, this case stopped being about a pretty straightforward state law and became some sort of free-for-all in the legal system,” he said. No formal proceedings were scheduled in the case at press time. Dana Herra can be reached at email@example.com.