Some time ago, I blogged about Connecticut legislation drafted to permit lawyers and would-be lawyers to “represent” animals in certain cases.
Since my first post, Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy signed the bill into law. I am now happy to report that he Act Concerning Support For Cats and Dogs that are Treated Cruelly officially took effect Oct. 1.
To refresh your memory, the law allows attorneys specializing in animal cruelty and neglect cases — and law school students with an interest in the subject — to “advocate for the interests of justice in certain proceedings involving animals.” There are three circumstances in which this can happen:
In animal cruelty or animal fighting cases
In “court proceedings stemming from an animal control officer’s seizure of a cruelly treated or neglected animal”
In “criminal cases involving the welfare or custody of cats or dogs.”
Qualified advocates (selected from lists kept by the Department of Agriculture) can now attend hearings, act as observers and provide relevant information to the judge or “fact finder.” In certain circumstances, they can also issue recommendations.
In accordance with the new law, any party involved in the case can request a special advocate’s services. The court can also appoint a special advocate.
A new rule currently pending review by the Connecticut General Assembly’s Joint Judiciary Committee calls for additional advocacy for neglected and abused animals.
Speaking up for those who can’t
As proposed, Connecticut House Bill 5344 would allow “a separate advocate” to be appointed “to represent the interests of the animal” or “the interests of justice” in certain cases.
The person selected from a list of qualified volunteers kept by the Commissioner of Agriculture would:
Monitor the case
Obtain information that would assist the judge or fact finder through consultations with relevant individuals
Review relevant records
Issue relevant recommendations
Passion and professionalism
The selection of an advocate selected in a case specified under the new rule could be made by the court itself or at the behest of a lawyer or party involved in the case. The advocates would either be attorneys “with knowledge of animal issues and the legal system” or law students from schools that “have students or anticipate having students with an interest in animal issues and the legal system.”
Participating students would be bound by specific guidelines pertaining to legal interns set forth in the Connecticut Practice Book. The “book” includes the Rules of Professional Conduct, Rules for the Superior Court and Code of Judicial Conduct for Connecticut lawyers.
Well, here’s another “no-brainer.”
As evidenced by numerous articles on the subject, animal law is a growing discipline requiring a specific skill set. Allowing a separate advocate with the necessary knowledge and/or passion for and interest in the work to do the “heavy lifting” in cases involving “the welfare or custody of an animal” benefits everyone involved. For one thing, it takes the burden off lawyers who aren’t as well-versed in this particular area. More importantly, it ensures that the person making the final decision has all of the information he or she needs in order to do so.
But most importantly of all, it ensures that there is a “voice” for those who can’t speak for themselves.