Bill A-4840 in the New Jersey Assembly, as currently drafted would interfere with the veterinarian-client-patient relationship and a pet owners ability to determine the proper care for their pets, and would provide animals greater access to free legal representation than people accused of criminal animal cruelty misdemeanors in the State. It should not be passed unless amended.
The bill, as proposed states,
In any criminal court proceeding pursuant to R.S.4:22-17 et seq. or pursuant to P.L.2015, c.85 (C.2C:33-31), or any other criminal proceeding that affects the welfare or care of a cat or dog, the court may order, upon its own initiative or upon request of a party or counsel for a party, that a separate advocate be appointed to represent the best interests of the animal. If a court orders an advocate to be appointed, the advocate shall be appointed from a list provided to the court by the Administrative Director of the Courts. A decision by the court denying a request to appoint a separate advocate to represent the best interests of the animal shall not be subject to appeal. A-4840 (emphasis added).
The “separate advocate . . . appointed to represent the best interests of the animal” would be in a similar legal position as a guardian ad litem appointed by the court, upon request, to represent the best interests of a child or incapacitated adult.
As the American Veterinary Medical Association’s position on guardianship of animals states, such changes in terminology and its effect would not protect animals, but would instead be harmful.
The American Veterinary Medical Association promotes the optimal health and welfare of animals. Further, the AVMA recognizes the role of responsible owners in providing for their animals’ care. Any change in terminology describing the relationship between animals and owners, including ‘guardian,’ does not strengthen this relationship and may, in fact, harm it. Such changes in terminology may adversely affect the ability of society to obtain and deliver animal services and, ultimately, result in animal suffering.
When a similar bill was introduced in the Connecticut legislature, the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Association opposed the bill on similar grounds. Before it was passed, it was amended to permit an animal advocate to represent the interest of justice, not the animal in certain criminal proceedings.
Animal cruelty is never acceptable, but the rights of animals to legal representation in court should not exceed the rights afforded to those accused of such acts. If animals are to receive the benefit of legal representation, so too should the accused. Since many animal cruelty offenses are considered non-indictable offenses, a defendant would not have access to a public defender, and would instead have to pay for legal representations. If animals in these cases would be represented by attorneys appointed by the State or worse, from animal rights organizations, a gross misapplication of justice would result.
Even more concerning, is the escalation of the rights of animals as similar to the rights of children or incapacitated adults requiring representation by guardians ad litem. The escalation of animal rights to those provided to humans, should be a concern to all except those who believe animals and humans should be afforded the same legal rights and that animal ownership is unconscionable and unethical.
Therefore, the bill should be amended to include representation of the accused in the same manner that the interests of the animals would be represented and should limit appointment of an advocate only by the court, and not upon the request of a party or counsel for a party.
NOTE: The Senate companion bill is S-3322. A-4840 is scheduled for the Assembly Judiciary Committee on January 24.