Every dog in New Jersey might soon be entitled to food, water, regular walks — and a court-appointed lawyer.
Recently proposed state legislation would allow judges to appoint lawyers for animal victims in cruelty cases.
The bill, which passed unanimously in the Senate earlier this year and is awaiting an Assembly vote, would create a Courtroom Animal Advocate Program (CAAP) in the Garden State. If passed, lawyers and third-year law students could volunteer as liaisons between the court and the abused animal as a cruelty case moves through the legal system, ensuring the creatures don’t get forgotten.
Such animals are “the actual victim of the crime,” said lawyer Emerald Sheay, adding that she would be among the first to volunteer for an advocacy role if the bill becomes law.
It’s really important they aren’t overlooked,” added Sheay, 26, of Westfield, NJ.
Connecticut and Maine are currently the only states in the country with similar laws, which have been successful and operate at no cost to the court or local government, animal-rights advocates say.
Under New Jersey’s proposed legislation, the legal advocates would inform the court of the health, status and living conditions of the animal, making sure it isn’t languishing in a shelter as its case winds through the system, said Brian Hackett, legislative affairs manager of the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
In particularly high-profile cases, the advocate could also inform the public of the status of the animal, he said.
Hackett’s organization is working to bring CAAP legislation to New York, emphasizing the program would only be used if the presiding judge in an animal-abuse case deemed it necessary.
“Defense attorneys have an obligation to the client, the prosecution has an obligation to the state’s cause, but a large number of animals are caught in the middle,” he said. “The courtroom animal advocate is not on either side.
“They are specifically advocating for the animals in the case to speak to their needs.”
The ALDF is now hoping New Jersey’s Assembly will squeeze the bill in before the end of the legislative session, although Speaker Craig Coughlin, a Democrat, hasn’t allowed the bill to advance despite overwhelming and bipartisan support.
Coughlin’s office said the speaker is “aware of the legislation and has engaged with the sponsors and interested stakeholders” but is still reviewing the bill.
Hackett says the law is a no-brainer and broadly popular and would be “recognition that animals are living, breathing sentient beings.”
Sheay said animal law is often a side passion for attorneys, so she would expect that plenty of her fellow barristers would want to volunteer, too, to make sure animals in these cases receive good care, are returned to a capable family member or get adopted.
Published on: Article source