Making a case for the dogs in Connecticut

This vintage typwriter is our featured image.

Judging by an article I just found, the old saying about the wheels of justice turning slowly doesn’t just apply to people. It applies to animals as well.

In Connecticut, it specifically applies to “dangerous” dogs that are  “accused” of committing certain “crimes.” And as far as I am concerned, that’s just not right.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

You see these dogs — which are often acting on instinct, or training rather than malice — face the ultimate penalty for their alleged actions. Yes, there is a “dog death penalty here.”

Don’t get me wrong. There are some cases in which such a policy is definitely warranted — and many where it isn’t. But that’s not the point.

The point of this particular post is to address a different but related matter; namely the amount of time the state can or should keep a “dangerous” dog in “custody” before it is euthanized.

Currently,  Connecticut “has no standards for determining when an animal should be euthanized, leaving it to the discretion of local animal control officers,” according to attorneys for a Connecticut dog owner whose Rottweilers have been living on what the media calls “a canine death row” for five years.

According to published reports, Kato and Kleo’s owner says they got out of their yard and bit a neighbor “only after they were attacked.” The state then ordered them to be put down.

Lawyers for plaintiffs in a recent federal class action lawsuit are now arguing that the lack of standards in such circumstances is a violation of dog owners’ rights. Specifically, they say it is “a violation of due process and an unreasonable seizure of property.”

I’m not a lawyer — but I happen to agree.

What do you think? Share your opinion in the comments section below.


Rhode Island might follow Alaska’s lead on pet custody

This vintage typwriter is our featured image.

A few months back, Alaska became the first state where courts are instructed to consider the pet’s well-being in divorce cases in which custody is an issue.

The question then became, which state or states, would follow suit.  And the answer is… Rhode Island.

Of course, it’s not a done deal, yet. But if everything goes according to plan, it will be.

Rhode Island’s pet custody bill

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

As proposed, an Act Relating to Domestic Relations — Pets — Custody, would amend existing state laws by adding a new section pertaining to the custody of pets. It specifically directs courts to “consider the best interests of the animal” when “awarding possession of a domestic animal in a divorce or separation proceeding.”

The bill’s co-sponsor, Rhode Island State Rep. Charlene Lima, recently told The New York Times that she planned to “introduce specific guidelines to be considered, such as which spouse most cared for the animal and took it to the vet, and whose lifestyle was best suited to pet ownership.”

Lima added that she hopes the measure, if passed, will help protect innocent animals from human vindictiveness.

“A lot of time I think it’s used as retribution,” Ms. Lima told The New York Times. “People can get really vicious in divorces, and using emotional attachment to a pet is something they can use to gain leverage.”

When people are at their worst, pets lose

If the findings of a 2014 survey cited in The New York Times article are any indication, Lima’s assessment is right on target.

More than a quarter of the participants in the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) survey acknowledged “an increase in the number of couples who have fought over the custody of a pet during the past five years.”

More than 20 percent of the participants “said that courts are more frequently allowing pet custody cases,” and 20 percent acknowledged “an increase in courts deeming pets to be an asset during a divorce.”

As Maria Cognetti, president of the AAML at the time, noted, “far too many spouses attempt to initiate these disputes as a negotiating strategy, often believing that they can use the animal as a kind of bargaining chip.  This tactic is usually not effective and can come back to ‘bite’ the antagonist throughout the divorce process.”

In other words, don’t try to make your dog, cat or any other pet a pawn in your divorce. Because there’s no law in Rhode Island… yet. And if you don’t live in Alaska, the court doesn’t have to take your pet’s best interests into account. Legally, it can just treat your pet like any other piece of personal property. And if that’s the case, you won’t like the outcome. And your pet will pay the price.

Federal appeals court sides with New York City on pet law

This vintage typwriter is our featured image.

By siding with New York City regarding a 2015 law that restricts pet sales, the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals took a big step towards protecting dogs, cats and their owners.

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

According to recent reports, the law opposed by the New York Pet Welfare Association “said pet shops could only obtain dogs and cats from federally licensed breeders with clean recent animal welfare records, and could not sell dogs and cats at least eight weeks old and weighing two pounds unless they were sterilized.”

Proponents say the law promotes the sale of healthy dogs and cats. By stipulating that pets are spayed or neutered before they are sold, it helps ensure that they don’t add to the number of unwanted dogs and cats in the city by having puppies and kittens.

Two for two

The New York Pet Welfare Association (NYPWA) — which represents those most affected by the measure — has voiced strenuous objections, however. Specifically, it claims the 2015 law “unconstitutionally burdened commerce by favoring in-state animal rescuers and shelters over out-of-state breeders, and was pre-empted by state veterinary medicine laws.”

At the end of a 29-page document in which he summarized and analyzed the arguments made by both parties, Judge Edward Korman found the New York Pet Welfare Association’s claims lack merit.

“The Sourcing and Spay/Neuter Laws address problems of significant
importance to the City and its residents. It appears that the City has enforced them for more than a year, with no apparent ill effects,” Korman wrote. “Because the challenged laws are not preempted by either state or federal law, and do not offend the Commerce Clause, we Affirm the district court’s order dismissing NYPWA’s complaint.”

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York also sided with the city in a ruling issued two years ago.

Undaunted, the NYPWA is now considering another appeal. In the meantime, as a spokesman for New York City’s Law Department told the New York media, proponents are savoring their second victory.

“We are pleased that the court upheld this common sense legislation, which helps ensure that cats and dogs are humanely sourced and that consumers can make informed choices when bringing pets into their homes,” Nick Paolucci told Reuters.

Courts beginning to view pets as more than property

This vintage typwriter is our featured image.

When it comes to an animal’s status under U.S. law, there seems to be little, if any room for debate. Legally, an animal is property… and that’s that. Or is it?

According to recent reports, a recent change to Alaskan divorce laws may herald a significant shift in the way courts treat our pets — or more accurately, how they decide who gets custody of the pet(s) when a marriage ends.

Alaskan divorce courts are now the first in the country where courts must consider “the well-being of the animal” while determining custody. The amendment to the state’s divorce laws also permit judges to order joint custody of the pet(s).

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

“It is significant,” David Favre, a Michigan State University law professor who specializes in animal law, told The Washington Post. “For the first time, a state has specifically said that a companion animal has visibility in a divorce proceeding beyond that of property — that the court may award custody on the basis of what is best for the dog, not the human owners.”

The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), a staunch advocate of such measures, concurs.

“Even though judges throughout the US can already choose, in their discretion, to consider an animal’s best interests, no other state legislature has required judges to do so when adjudicating property distribution upon the dissolution of a marriage,” the organization said in a recent blog.

And to the lawmaker who sponsored the bill, it’s simply common sense. As long as people think of their pets as family, the courts should treat them accordingly, she says.

“Pets are truly members of our families,” Rep. Liz Vasquez says. We care for them as more than just property. As such, the courts should grant them more consideration. It’s only natural.”

Additional changes to Alaska laws that just took effect “allow companion animals to be included in domestic violence protective orders, and permits a court to order that the abuser pay financial support for a pet in the care of the human victim, if that abuser has a legal obligation to care for the pet.”

Bad news for ‘professional’ bloggers

This vintage typwriter is our featured image.

As a blogger, I’m one in a million. Or perhaps a billion.

Back in 2013, I started a personal blog in order to promote my memoir, Truth Be Told: Adam Becomes Audrey. Two years later, I launched my business, In Brief Legal Writing Services, and created this site in order to establish a digital (virtual presence). I also started this blog in order to promote it.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

As it stands, I’m glad I did. I happen to enjoy writing about the law, animal advocacy and related issues.

Having said that, I never harbored any illusions about getting thousands of hits or attracting tons of readers. Writing a blog that generates that sort of interest requires expertise that I simply don’t have, money I don’t want to spend (for SEO classes and so forth) and time that I can’t afford to waste. After all, I am busy working for a living…

Which brings me to my point. Finally.

Not too long ago, a New York court dealt a big blow to “professional bloggers.” Specifically, Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Department of the State of New York ruled that a freelance writer and blogger is not eligible for unemployment benefits.

As reports, “the case involved Gregory Mitchell, a freelance writer, who entered into a contract in 2010 with The Nation to author regular blog posts for the company’s website.”

Everything was fine for a few years. But as we all know, nothing lasts forever. And in 2014, management at The Nation decided not to renew Mitchell’s contract. That’s when he applied for unemployment benefits.

At first, state officials tasked with determining who is eligible for said benefits sided with Mitchell, saying that he was actually an employee. Representatives for The Nation disagreed and pursued an appeal.

Needless to say, a legal battle ensued with the outcome hinging on a key issue. Was Mitchell an employee in the legal sense, or an independent contractor?

With the shift in the economy since the Great Recession, making the distinction has become even more difficult. As a result, the government and courts have established specific criteria to differentiate between traditional and “gig economy” workers.

These are include varying forms of control and the relationship between the “employer” and “employee.”

Based on its assessment using these criteria, the court determined that Mitchell is actually an independent contractor. In New York, independent contractors “are not covered under the Unemployment Insurance (UI) Law.” In other words, they cannot claim unemployment benefits.

As the attorney that represented The Nation in the case told, “This case takes a major step in clarifying how rules developed to deal with traditional employment relationships apply to the rapidly changing world of modern journalism and its reliance on bloggers and other more casual employment relationships.”

For now, that seems to be the end of the story… at least in this case. But as the “gig economy” continues to grow, the question remains whether other courts will follow New York’s lead… or not.

Raccoons now at the center of New Jersey court battle

This vintage typwriter is our featured image.

When I was little, one of my favorite books was Rascal by Sterling North. In it, North recounts his boyhood experiences — including his unique friendship with a raccoon called Rascal. North’s relationship with Rascal begins when Rascal is just a little cub — and they have more than their share of interesting adventures. But Rascal is never really tame — and North soon realizes the folly of keeping his “pet.”

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

Before he turns Rascal loose, however, North also realizes that hunting and trapping — activities he has always enjoyed — put Rascal and animals like him — at risk.

He says: “How could anyone mutilate the sensitive questing hands of an animal like Rascal… I burned my fur catalogues in the furnace and hung my traps in the loft in the barn, never to use them again. Men had stopped killing other men in France that day; ad on that day I signed a permanent peace treaty with the animals and the birds. It is perhaps the only peace treaty that was ever kept.”

Today, almost 100 years after North reached that conclusion, a debate about racoon trapping is still raging — in New Jersey, of all places.

According to published reports, animal rights advocates say the use of certain traps recently approved by a state agency is inhumane. The state disagrees and the matter is reportedly heading to the New Jersey Supreme Court.

As it now stands, all New Jersey trappers must abide by the following rules:

  • A trapping license is required and a Trapper Education
    course must be passed.
  • All traps set or used must bear a legible tag of
    durable material with the name and address of
    the person setting, using and maintaining the
    traps. Trap tags with Fish and Wildlife-issued
    trap identification number or the trapper’s Conservation
    Identification Number (CID#) may be
    used in lieu of name and address to mark each trap.
  • All traps must be checked and tended at least
    once every 24 hours, preferably in the morning.
  • No trap shall be permitted to remain set on any
    property at the close of the trapping season.
  • It is illegal to possess or use steel-jawed leghold
    traps anywhere in New Jersey.

The rules that now apply specifically to the use of “foothold traps” for raccoon trapping are as follows:

  • All triggering and restraining mechanisms shall
    be enclosed by a housing.
    • The triggering and restraining mechanism is accessible
    only by a single opening when the trap is set.
    • The access opening does not exceed 2 inches in
    diameter or when measured diagonally.
    • The triggering mechanism can be activated only
    by a pulling force.
    • The trap has a swivel-mounted anchoring system.

Whether or not the rules pertaining to foothold traps will remain in effect remains to be seen.  So all I can say about the matter for now is, stay tuned…

Professional juries? Idea yields mixed verdict

This vintage typwriter is our featured image.

My mother is my hero. It goes without saying that she is always looking out for me. So whenever she comes across something interesting that she thinks I might be able to blog about, she passes it along.

Recently, she found a fascinating article in the September 2015 issue of The Costco Connection, of all places. And believe it or not, the topic was the merit of professional juries. You can view the article here.

And The Survey Says…

As you can see, this is a pretty controversial idea. Some people like it and some people don’t.

Those who support the idea say use of professional juries — made up of either retired judges and lawyers or others specially trained in the nuances of the law — would improve the American justice system in two significant ways. First, proponents argue that well-trained and knowledgeable jurors would eliminate the need for jury selection and comprehensive jury instructions, making civil and criminal trials a lot quicker. They also claim that professional juries made up of people well versed in the law would be more likely to render fair and appropriate verdicts.

Those who are against it say that paid juries would likely be “employed” by the government and that this would compromise their objectivity. They also argue that even though jurors now called to serve may not be familiar with legal issues, they nevertheless bring a wealth of expertise to the task. Finally, some say there is no constitutional basis for the use of professional juries.

From Where I Sit

Although I wasn’t surprised that this is a contentious issue, I was surprised to see that it’s not a new debate. A quick search of the Internet yielded articles dating back to 2009. I’m sure if I looked some more I could find information about the issue dating back further than that.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

But in all of the articles I read, I didn’t see anything written by proponents or opponents that addresses a basic problem with the current jury system. Whether anyone cares to admit it or not, the fact is that most people now see jury duty as a burden. To the vast majority of Americans, jury duty is something to avoid, or something to “get out of.”

Trust me, as a former cops and courts reporter who covered my share of significant civil and criminal trials, I have heard plenty of excuses from prospective jurors. Some honestly act as if they would rather have an excruciating dental procedure without anesthesia than serve on a jury.

To me there is a second, and perhaps even more important issue. It is true that jurors who do serve now bring considerable expertise to the task. But they also bring overwhelming personal bias to it. And no matter what they say during voir dire, (when attorneys ask questions during jury selection) putting those biases aside is easier said than done. It’s just human nature.

All of that being stated, I’d rather take my chances with a professional jury. How about you? Leave a comment and let me know.

The Martha Moxley murder and her killer’s fate: a personal perspective

This vintage typwriter is our featured image.

In the fall of 1975, a heinous crime rocked Greenwich, Connecticut. A teenage girl was brutally murdered in Belle Haven, an especially private and wealthy neighborhood in what consistently ranks as one of the wealthiest communities in the country.

A cautionary tale

I grew up not far from there. But as a kid, I was blissfully unaware of what had happened on the other side of the tracks — or more accurately — on the “right” side of I-95, just a few short miles away. As the years went by and the case remained unsolved, my friends and I spent countless hours playing on our own street, less than a five-minute drive away from the spot where someone had beaten Martha Moxley to death with a golf club.

At some point — probably in my early teens — I learned all about the girl who was killed on “Mischief Night,” the night before Halloween when teens egg cars, houses and decorate their neighborhoods with toilet paper. Adults used Martha’s story as a cautionary tale, warning us not to go out on Mischief Night, or not to stay out too late if we did. Being teenagers — and more accurately being teenage girls — we also swapped stories, gossiped and speculated about the  unknown killer and unsolved crime.

‘Super Cop’ comes to town

As a young reporter my first “real” newspaper job in Greenwich in the 1990s, I worked with one of Martha’s closest friends. As you can imagine, that gave me a whole new perspective on the matter. It was no longer just a brutal and senseless crime that rocked my town; it was a brutal and senseless crime that directly affected someone I knew.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

Given that, you can also imagine my reaction when, as a reporter for the same paper, I witnessed  former LAPD Detective Mark Fuhrman’s arrival in town. Although I wasn’t the police reporter at the time (I had happily given the beat to a colleague) I do know the Greenwich police — long frustrated and embarrassed about their inability to solve the Moxley case — weren’t exactly happy about it, either.  Apparently Fuhrman got what he wanted — and then he wrote a book. In it, he identified Michael Skakel, who is related to the Kennedys, as the “prime suspect” in the case.

The wheels of justice

As so often happens, especially in big cases, the wheels of justice seem to turn very, very slowly — until something happens to speed things up. In this case, it just so happened that a grand jury investigation was authorized in 1998, the same year that Fuhrman’s book was released.

The grand jury investigation itself took more than a year. As a result, Skakel turned himself in to authorities in January, 2000. Two years later, he was tried and convicted of murder, and he was ultimately sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.

He remained in prison for more than 10 years, until a judge ruled that his attorney made mistakes that resulted in a wrongful conviction.

According to a Hartford Courant account, however, prosecutors now want Skakel “back in prison.”

So do I.

Advancing animal advocacy

This vintage typwriter is our featured image.

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
  • Attend hearings
  • 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.

Personal perspective

Well, here’s another “no-brainer.”

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

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.




The nanny state strikes again

This vintage typwriter is our featured image.

You have got to be kidding me.

Just when New York City and the rest of the Tri-State Area finally got rid of Michael “Don’t You Dare Drink A Soda” Bloomberg, the “nanny state” came along and poured some proverbial salt in the wound. Or something like that.

Food fight

Here’s what happened. Someone — or more likely some group — came up with the brilliant idea that chain restaurants in New York City should put a salt shaker icon next to any menu items that contain or exceed the recommended daily allowance of sodium. Then someone else — likely backed by a bunch of “do-gooders” — decided that this should be mandatory.

Of course someone else decided it wasn’t such a great idea, so of course lawyers got involved and the courts stepped in. Go figure.

Anyhow, from what I’ve read, the New York City “food police” were supposed to start fining restaurants that failed to comply with this last week. A last-minute court ruling put a temporary stop to that, however. You can read the details here.

I suppose you could argue that all of this is no big deal. You could even argue that whole salt shaker icon idea makes sense. After all, it is just simple way to help people make an informed decision, right? I suppose you could also argue that there are lots of people with health issues who shouldn’t have too much salt. So it’s just for their own good.

It’s easy to believe what someone in authority says. So I’m sure if you listen to health gurus and nutritionists and doctors and the government you could list even more reasons to support the idea. Or you can actually think for yourselves and reach your own conclusions. Now there’s a new and revolutionary plan.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

Personally I don’t need a label on a menu to tell me if something’s too salty. I mean, I’m not a dietitian or a nutritionist but I am pretty sure I could figure it out. So could you. Just put the food in your mouth and taste it. It’s really not that difficult.

If you think about it, it’s not that hard to employ a bit of common sense, either. And common sense dictates that it’s not a good idea to indulge in too much of anything. Of course excessive eating, drinking, smoking and so on will take a toll on your health. Of course your body will rebel if you have too much processed food, caffeine, salt, alcohol, nicotine, sugar… Of course if you combine all of this with a sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise you’ll probably end up getting really sick. Do you really need anyone to tell you so?

Personally, I don’t. I am an adult. I have a brain. I know how to use it. I know that  all actions have consequences. I know that some consequences can be unpleasant. I also know that if I make risky or irresponsible choices about my own health, there’s no one to blame but myself.

Ultimately if I am not drinking and driving or doing drugs, I am not putting anyone but myself at risk. But could I become a burden on my family — or even my fellow taxpayers — if I became chronically ill as a result of poor choices about my health? Sure. Is that sad? Yes. Is it right? No.

Does that mean that the government should be allowed to dictate everything I eat or drink? I should think not.

Frankly the whole thing makes me sick.