AUGUSTA – The
Maine Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in a case where a woman was
seeking visitation rights with a dog she and her ex-boyfriend owned. That case
could be groundbreaking.
But now, Rep. Donna Bailey, a lawyer from Saco, is working to pass a law in Augusta that would authorize Maine’s court system to appoint lawyers to represent “justice” for dogs, cats and other animals. This would extend the state’s part in criminal and civil cases beyond the existing prosecutor roles Maine’s Attorney General and district attorneys already play.
The bill, L.D. 1442, has been referred to the Maine Legislature’s Judiciary Committee and had a public hearing and work session. It has five cosponsors, along with Rep. Bailey.
The proposal is carefully crafted to ensure the lawyer is technically advocating in the interest of “justice” but the narrow scope of cases it applies to are only cases where a human being is accused of cruelty.
However, in her testimony for the bill, Rep. Bailey specifically says her proposal would fill the “void” that exists in the justice system where the court will appoint an advocate for a human being, but not for an animal.
The bill, Rep. Bailey says, would allow the court-appointed lawyer or advocate to be appointed both in criminal and civil cases.
Maine prosecutors already prosecute animal cruelty cases under a fairly robust criminal code. Maine’s Department of Agriculture leads that effort, in partnership with local animal control officers. Maine’s Attorney General and district attorneys are responsible for assisting the Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture for enforcement and prosecution.
The bill requires
the Maine Department of Agriculture to maintain a list of lawyers and law
students with knowledge of animal issues and the legal system. That list would
be provided to Maine’s courts to identify those who are eligible to be appointed.
authorizes those new legal advocates to consult and question veterinarians,
animal control officers and law enforcement. It also allows them to attend
hearings and make recommendations to the court based on the information they obtain.
The positions would initially be as volunteers under the proposal.
L.D. 1442 had a public hearing on May 1, and the Judiciary Committee was divided on the bill on May 23. At the public hearing Rep. Bailey proposed adding an amendment to protect the new positions under The Maine Tort Claims act to make them immune from any civil liability.
She also proposed to move the responsibility for maintaining the list away from the Maine Department of Agriculture to the group of lawyers who will organize to do this work or “successor agency.”
The bill has not been reported out of the committee for a full vote of the House or Senate at this time.
Sponsor: Rep. Donna Bailey (D – Saco)
Cosponsors: Senator Ben Chipman (D – Cumberland) Rep. Barbara Cardone (D – Bangor) Rep. Thom Harnett (D – Gardiner) Rep. Victoria Morales (D – South Portland) Sen. Michael Carpenter (D – Aroostook)