How It Works

In one California county, for example, the dangerous dog ordinance of the county is enforced in a hearing in which one county animal control officer acts as prosecutor, and another officer from the same office serves as the judge. Neither is required to have any legal training that is specific to adversarial hearings. In a case involving a seriously and permanently injured victim, the deficiencies of this system resulted in manifest unfairness.

In that case, a pit bull had run onto public property and partially severed a young mother’s arm; both of her left forearm bones were snapped and pulled apart, leaving her arm dangling by the muscle. A defense attorney showed up to represent the dog owners at the ensuing “dog court” hearing, but made no secret of the fact that he was there NOT in defense of the dog but to prepare to defend against the victim’s civil claim (which was not yet filed).

A travesty ensued in which the hearing officer permitted the lawyer to ask far-ranging questions of the victim which had literally nothing to do with the dog. The animal control department “prosecutor” also gave the defense attorney the victim’s entire medical chart, with the medical history and everything else inside it. The lawyer presented absolutely no evidence regarding the dog. The dog was of no concern to him; his assignment was to make sure that the victim got no compensation.

When the victim’s attorney objected at various times, the hearing officer demanded that he remain silent, would not consider or comment on his objections, and literally threatened to eject him from the room.

The victim, who had three surgeries since being attacked, left the hearing with the feeling that she was under attack once again.