A good judge and a strong Texas law give animals their due
Jan. 07, 2010
By MIKE NORMAN <mnorman @ star-telegram.com> (close
I have a new hero. He's Associate Judge Michael Smith of the
Arlington Municipal Court, who this week hammered U.S. Global Exotics for
mistreating about 27,000 animals.
His seven-page ruling in the case,
delivered Tuesday after he wrapped up a seven-day hearing on the matter last
week, was as solid, balanced and well-reasoned as any court opinion I have read.
From the looks of the photographs, video and audio posted online by People
for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, he got it right. No animal should be
forced to live under conditions like those at U.S. Global Exotics -- and Texas
law is written to protect "every living dumb creature" from exactly such
Call me cynical, but in many cases I find Texas law to be
inadequate. In this case, the statutes are strong and clear in favor of
protecting animals first and then sorting out the details in a custody hearing
within 10 days.
Municipal courts aren't exactly the Supreme Court of the
United States. They mostly hear cases like contested speeding tickets and other
traffic violations, complaints that people have failed to keep their property up
to city code and public intoxication charges.
It�s not usually the place
for a judge to make headlines, but each case involves a real person who deserves
careful consideration and justice, as well as a legal complaint that must be
Smith's ruling wiped out the inventory of an international
business, about 500 species of animals -- chinchillas, coatimundi, frogs,
hamsters, hedgehogs, iguanas, kinkajous, lizards, prairie dogs, sloths, snakes,
spiders and thousands of baby turtles -- most captured in the wild and all bound
for sale in pet shops, to zoos and to private owners. It was a big case; seven
days of testimony show everyone involved took it seriously.
what lawyers do. Lance Evans, representing the company, argued among other
things that U.S. Global Exotics was not properly identified as the owner of the
animals in the warrant under which they were seized on Dec. 15.
recognized the empty argument. The law allows officials to take quick action to
protect animals when there�s reason to believe it's needed, even when they have
been unable or have not had time to determine ownership. And besides, Jasen
Shaw, the president of U.S. Global Exotics was present during the seizure and
was handed written notice of the custody hearing that started Dec. 18.
Notice to the owner is required, but the law says the "knowledge and acts of an
agent or employee of a corporation" such as U.S. Global Exotics are the same as
those of the corporation.
Smith was willing to cut U.S. Global Exotics
some slack. He said he found "some merit in the proposition that a facility that
is being used as a temporary holding facility . . . might reasonably be held to
a slightly lower standard than would a facility where the animals will be kept
for an indefinite period."
But, he said, U.S. Global Exotics took no
steps "to insure that more intensive and generous care was given to those whose
stay was being extended." The company didn't feed, water or care for its animals
Finally, Smith was not sidetracked by claims that PETA was
wrong to send an undercover investigator to take a job at U.S. Global Exotics
and expose its inhumane treatment of animals. Neither PETA nor its tactics were
on trial; the question at hand was whether thousands of creatures had received
proper care at an Arlington warehouse.
They didn't. They've been taken
away from U.S. Global Exotics, and the thousands that survive are getting the
care they deserve.
We have a good judge and a strong Texas law to thank.