Cold Noses and Wagging Tales In Court

I have, from time to time, been known to lose my cool in court. I’ve fumed at judges, witnesses, even marshals. On one occasion I was sent abruptly to the lockup for words spoken to a marshal by a judge who thought due process was a board game. Courtrooms make me tense. There’s a lot on the line. Fortunes are made and lost; people go to prison for long periods of time. Courtrooms bring out the best and worst in me.

So I am going to ask for permission to bring my dogs to court. Penelope and Odysseus, my two border collies, are good for me. I am their life’s work. They keep a constant eye on me. They follow me everywhere. When I sit, they are by my side. When I move, they herd me. They are cold noses, velvet ears and warm bundles of love. I may never be mellow, but I am a better man, I swear I am, because of those dogs.

I’m betting having the dogs in the courtroom would make me a better lawyer, too.

And why not? We’re now permitting dogs to sooth the nerves of nervous children testifying in court.

Why the next time I am in trial before Superior Court Judge John Carbonneau, Jr., I’m going to waltz right into court with the dogs. Judge Carbonneau has set a precedent, you see. He’s let Summer, a yellow Labrador, into his court to sit at the feet of a child witness in a sex case.

Let’s face it, Labradors are stupid. I saw a picture of Summer in the Law Tribune. She looked pretty depressed. I’ll bet someone had to used "Hooked on Barking" to teach her to yelp. The poor thing looked like she’d have a cardiac if she wagged her tail.

My dogs are smart. They could help Judge Carbonneau, too.

"Objection, Judge," I will say. "Hearsay."

"I’m not so sure," Judge Carbonneau might respond.

"Grrrrrrrm," Penny will reply, staring him down as only a border collie can, forelegs spread, shoulders hunched, her back arched. It is best to stand clear when uttering the word "go" to a border collie. My dogs are rockets.

"I see," the judge would say. "Sustained, counsel."

Ody would then saunter up to him to lick his hand, reinforcing the good ruling.

Why I am betting my dogs could even teach prosecutors a thing or two.

Senior State’s Attorney Anne Mahoney thinks it’s a good thing to have dogs in the courtroom. Of course she would think that when it helps her case. In Summer’s debut in a Connecticut courtroom, Judge Carbonneau permitted Summer to sit at the witness’s feet, out of view of the jury. Defense counsel feared that the sight of a cute kid cuddling a cute dog on the witness stand might just inspire sympathy among jurors. Good lord. Do public defenders love everyone, dogs included?

"By statute you can bring a teddy bear or guardian" to court, Mahoney argues. "This is better than that and nobody is going to accuse the dog of giving the kid the answer."

I like Anne. She is a good lawyer. She must be a whole lot smarter than me, too. In my wildest dreams I have never imagined a teddy bear giving witnesses answers. Perhaps Anne sees dead people, too. I don’t know.

But something tells me she is not a dog owner.

Dogs can talk, or at least communicate. There is a reason that dog is God spelled backward. My dogs are agents of grace in a graceless world. I’ll bet the men and women I defend in court wish they could have a dog sitting with them while the state attacks. What about the nerves and anxieties of those presumed innocent in a courtroom? Do they count, too?

"C’mon, Penny. Let’s go, Ody. Time for court." I can see it now. All day fast and faithful friends by my side. I’d have to behave in court. I’d be afraid the dogs would tell my wife all about it at day’s end otherwise. Maybe I’d be too mellow to get a thing done with those two at my side. Something tells me I won’t be finding out anytime soon. Doggone it.

Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.


About Norm Pattis

Norm Pattis is a Connecticut based trial lawyer focused on high stakes criminal cases and civil right violations. He is a veteran of more than 100 jury trials, many resulting in acquittals for people charged with serious crimes, multi-million dollar civil rights and discrimination verdicts, and scores of cases favorably settled.

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I believe that the state is a necessary fiction and that failing to combat it is the first step toward tyranny.
– Norm Pattis


Nothing in this blog should be considered legal advice about your case. You need a lawyer who understands the context of your life and situation. What are offered here are merely suggested lines of inquiry you may explore with your lawyer.

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