In Part 72, Judge Mader discusses an illegal animal rescue case, and then details the sentencing of a man who destroyed evidence in a gang-related murder investigation.

You can find links to all installments of Inside the Robe here.

August 25

Learning about a subject I’ve never understood―the training of dogs that appear on movie and TV sets―is interesting to me. There is a lot of physicality involved. The dogs are kept in crates and can work with their trainers for twelve to fifteen hours a day. The crates are heavy and need to be moved around. If the dog must look in a special direction, the trainer holds a doggy treat just out of camera view. This can require the trainer to be perched on a ladder or even lying on the ground right outside the camera frame. If the trainer is in physical pain, she can’t work. Additionally, if free-lance jobs are turned down by a trainer, the hiring employer just calls another trainer. The field is saturated with trainers.

The plaintiff has described how, along with her friend, they stopped visiting terminally ill children with their dogs at hospitals after the accident. “The visiting takes place with the dogs, trainers, and children sitting on the floor as everyone plays. Since I couldn’t sit for several months without pain, I couldn’t take my dog to the hospital.”

August 26

This morning’s court excitement involved the sentencing of a woman from an animal rescue organization. She was told that a dog was being abused by its owner, kept in a crate 24/7, and the owner only cleaned out the crate by hosing it out with the dog inside. The dog barked and cried continuously. The defendant and a friend, dressed as animal control officers, went to the owner’s house to convince the owner to give them the dog. Conflicting stories emerged as to what happened, but the women left with the dog and drove straight to the veterinarian. To the women’s surprise, they were both charged with felony residential burglary and impersonating a government official.

Each woman was allowed to enter a plea to a felony, but sentencing would be continued until each completed 120 hours of community service. Then they would be sentenced to a misdemeanor, and receive informal probation, with no probation officer, for two years. Today was the day for sentencing.

The woman before me objected strongly to being sentenced to anything at all. She said, “It’s not fair that I should have a criminal record. I cooperated from the beginning, and my motives were only to save an animal from being abused.”

Animal rescue people occasionally push legal limits to save animals from abuse or neglect. Sometimes animal rights advocates argue their calling is too crucial to be punished if they need to violate the law. The prosecutor’s office took the unusual circumstances here into consideration when fashioning the plea. Yet today the defendant doesn’t want what she bargained for anymore and feels that she is a victim. We put the sentencing over for her to consult with another attorney whether she should try to withdraw the plea and take her case to jury trial. 

We’re not going to finish the civil case today. During closing arguments, the plaintiff’s attorney asked the jury to award her doctor’s expenses: $2,000 for each of the three months the plaintiff underwent treatment, and $1,000 per month for the year she couldn’t do the activities she loved. That doesn’t seem unreasonable.

The insurance company attorney argued, “My client wasn’t negligent at all! The plaintiff was unreasonable when she claimed she was doing a safe three-point turn. Nobody does a three-point turn anymore.” What? He then argued, “The police officer who testified that the male driver was obviously trying to pass the plaintiff on the left when the accident occurred was biased. The plaintiff and her two friends’ versions were ‘too good’ and also were biased. The plaintiff’s Facebook page showing the plaintiff carrying a paddle board three months after the accident demonstrates the plaintiff was lying about her injuries.” He ignored the plaintiff’s testimony that she photo-shopped a photo from an earlier date.

The jury has gone out to deliberate.

August 29

Today I sentenced the apartment manager who destroyed the video of the murder committed at his apartment house. The defendant provided a dozen letters from tenants at his former apartment attesting that he was the only person who was able to run the apartment smoothly. He was going to surrender immediately to begin doing his time.

Even though the courtroom was filled with spectators, the prosecutor wanted a continuance. She claimed she had been in trial and didn’t have time to prepare for sentencing. I told her, “I’ll wait for a half-hour for you to prepare, but I’m going to give him the same sentence I said earlier—180 days in jail.” There was no way that I was going to tell all of the people who had taken time from work that I was going to continue the sentencing.

The prosecutor made an impassioned argument. “The defendant interfered in a murder investigation and people need to be deterred. This defendant is a threat to society. He needs to go to prison for two years.” I didn’t know if the suggested sentence was coming from her or her supervisor. Sometimes, when police are victims, prosecutors argue especially vigorously for lengthy sentences, regardless whether they believe the sentence is appropriate. If I sentenced the defendant to state prison, the felony conviction would follow him forever unless he received a pardon from the governor, an unlikely event.

I made the point, “This defendant made a series of bad choices for which he should be held responsible. Spending 180 days in jail and three years on felony probation is tough on someone who has never been in custody before. This is not a defendant who will be a repeat offender. He was placed in a unique situation when he began to manage an apartment house controlled by criminal gangs. Likely he wanted the good salary and free apartment and decided to overlook the criminality of what he was asked to do. He chose to act as a friend to the gang members, hoping that they would continue to protect him as a ‘stand up’ guy for destroying the video. This is the type of one-time mistake that immature people make.” I was glad, as a judge, I could play a role in punishing him appropriately and ensuring his life would not be ruined. 

The jurors arrived at a verdict in the civil trial after only two hours of deliberation. They split the baby almost down the middle, confirming we wasted our time for five days. They found that the female driver whose car was hit was 40 percent liable for the accident, and the man who hit her 60 percent liable.

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