Saturday, March 20, 2010

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Sometimes, it's the little law cases which are the most interesting.

In Magnolia, New Jersey, one night, around the year 2000, a client who owned a gasoline station asked me to pick up some documents he had left in the gas station in the custody of one of the attendants.

Because the gas station was open all night and on the White Horse Pike, a very busy road, it tended to attract a high proportion of the robberies in the area, by masked men seeking money for drug purchases. It was the "robbery victim of choice" among bad guys, so to speak.

To deal with the robbery problem, the owner purchased the biggest, meanest German shepherd attack dog he could find, and chained him up to a dog house not too far from the gas pumps. Whenever a customer came the dog would come out of its doghouse to inspect. If the customer did not bother it, it ignored him. If it hated the customer, it would start barking wildly, pulling on its chain to try to sink its teeth into the customer's throat. It was really, really mean!

And he was very, very good at deterring robberies. The robbers apparently worried that the dog made too much noise, and that there might be a way to easily release him. Robberies stopped.

When I drove into the gas station at around 10:00 p.m., and got out of my car to retrieve the papers, the dog saw me, recognized me and ignored me.

As I stood talking to the attendant, a woman drove her car up to the gas pumps and got out. She was 40ish, and heavy, and very sober-looking.

The dog did not like her at all. He jumped up and and growled and barked viciously, pulling on his chain with all of his heavily muscled strength.

Suddenly, as I walked with the attendant over to the woman's car, the dog's chain snapped, and the dog ran full speed toward the woman, jaws opened wide. As he got close to the woman, he jumped and flew through the air toward her, his teeth aimed squarely for her neck.

The gas station attendant simultaneously ran forward to the woman. He raised his fist, and just as the dog's teeth were about one-quarter of a second from being planted in the woman's throat, as she stood there, paralyzed, with a look of fright on her face, the attendant punched the dog hard on the side of the head, interrupting his attack, splattering him to the pavement. Shocked, the dog got up and ran into his dog house.

I saw the incident. The woman could not deny it -- she was less than a second away from getting a mouth full of teeth planted into the flesh of her neck, and her throat torn out, but the attendant had saved her.

She turned around, reached into her car, brought out a pad of summonses, and issued to the attendant an SPCA summons for Cruelty to Animals!

I put my hand on the attendant's shoulder. I said, "What this woman just did is evil. Don't worry. Your employer will hire me to represent you."

Technically, if I was a witness I should not be representing the Defendant. But that was really not a problem. In night court a few weeks later, I conferenced the matter with the prosecutor as follows.

"I saw what happened. What the SPCA representative is doing in this case is just plain evil, to put it bluntly. By punching the dog hard on the side of the head just before the dog's teeth reached her neck and ripped out a mouthful of her neck and killed her, the Defendant saved her life. He clearly saved her life. I would describe the woman from the SPCA as morally disgusting, and as more of an animal than the attack dog.

"If she proceeds with this case, then I am resigning as defense counsel and I will testify for the Defendant."

The prosecutor whispered what I had told him to the woman from the SPCA. She said that she wanted to go forward with the case, anyway. I resigned. As we waited for the case to go on, she sat there, staring at me. Finally, she asked for a postponement because she said she felt sick.

And she never came to court again after that.

We had to appear two more times. At the third session, the Court dismissed the charge, but imposed $30 in costs upon the Defendant. I found this insulting to human dignity. I jumped up and said, "Your honor, my client did punch the dog, but he did it to save the woman's life. I saw it happen. He did save her life. Rather than withdraw the charge, to keep me from resigning and corroborating the defense, she made us come to court three times, in my opinion to punish us for being honest."

The judge said, "Costs on the SPCA."

And then he looked at the Clerk and said, "And make sure that you collect the money."

So, there is justice.

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