Chalk this up in the unexpected results category.

Over the past few years, animals—usually dogs—have been used more and more in courtrooms around the country, even in Arizona. It’s been discovered that they have a soothing effect on parties and other trial participants. Thus, in their own unique way, dogs may contribute to the administration of justice.

Rosie, who comforts traumatized children and aided a teenager on the stand in a rape trial, outside the Dutchess County Courthouse in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., with Dale Picard. (Kelly Shimoda for The New York Times)

Former State Bar of Arizona President Ray Hanna wrote on the topic last year. He described pioneer steps taken by courts in Florida and Washington State to integrate dogs into the courtroom. (It also allowed him the opportunity to feature a photo of his own beautiful dog.)

Ray Hanna and companion in a 2010 President's Message

This week, though, I came across a blog post written by an Arizona lawyer, Howard Snader. In it, he describes the question of fairness that such a dog may present in a courtroom.

As the author writes:

“Some criminal law attorneys feel the use of therapy dogs in the courtroom is a violation of the defendant’s rights to a fair trial and that the dog, with its cuteness and subtle communication about the victim and truth of testimony, will prejudice the jury. Criminal defense lawyers have complained about the negative effects created against the criminal defendant by the presence of a therapy dog in a criminal trial.

“This factor has unknown impact against the work of a criminal lawyer to defend their client and obtain a fair trial. Attorneys are citing the conviction results of a Poughkeepsie, N.Y., rape trial as proof that the effect of the presence of [therapy dog] Rosie influenced the trial outcome.”

The New York trial he refers to was covered by The New York Times here.

The reporter writes:

“Prosecutors [in Dutchess County, N.Y.] noted that [Rosie] is in the vanguard of a growing trial trend: in Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana and some other states in the last few years, courts have allowed such trained dogs to offer children and other vulnerable witnesses nuzzling solace in front of juries.

“The new role for dogs as testimony enablers can, however, raise thorny legal questions. Defense lawyers argue that the dogs may unfairly sway jurors with their cuteness and the natural empathy they attract, whether a witness is telling the truth or not, and some prosecutors insist that the courtroom dogs can be a crucial comfort to those enduring the ordeal of testifying, especially children.”

Read the blog post and the NYT article and let me know what you think. Do you agree with the concerns raised? Would a juror be swayed by the presence of a therapy dog? Do these animals have a place in the courtroom? If they do, should their use be modified?

And for more information on Howard Snader and his practice, click here.

June 2009: Then-State Bar of Arizona President-elect Ray Hanna and Judge Robert Brutinel, Arizona Superior Court for Yavapai County (today named to the Arizona Supreme Court)

Back in June 2009, as we prepared for an Arizona Attorney Magazine profile of incoming State Bar President Ray Hanna, photographer Christopher Marchetti snapped a shot of Ray with Judge Robert Brutinel–today named to the Arizona Supreme Court. Enjoy the photo.

You can read more about Judge–I mean Justice–Brutinel in the Governor’s press release.


Bar President Ray Hanna and work by Lon McGargy

President Ray Hanna presided over his last meeting of the Board of Governors, and ended that meeting by thanking his colleagues.

He began by thanking Immediate Past President Ed Novak. Hanna said, “Because Ed came before me, it was a far easier stone to roll up the mountain than if had he not done so much work.”

Novak spoke briefly about his years on the Board.

“On any great board, we learn to agree despite our disagreements. I’ve had many opportunities over the years to have disagreements with many of you, but we’ve never taken it personally, and I think the Bar benefits from those disagreements.”

He ended by saying, “I applaud all of you for helping all of the members for the 11 years I’ve been on the board.”

President Hanna also praised Roger Contreras, who leaves the Board after a failed re-election bid. Contreras’ words of advice were few: “Be kind to each other.” He also spoke highly of State Bar staff.

Also thanked by Hanna were outgoing YLD President Sam Saks and public member Emily Johnston.

Johnston recalled last year, when she saw a cell from an animated movie that contained a small mouse pulling a large elephant up a hill. “That mouse is sometimes like life,” she said, “and like life on the Board of Governors. Every one of you has inspired me.”

Finally, soon-to-be Bar President Alan Bayham Jr. thanked Ray Hanna for his service.

Of Hanna Bayham said, “I have never met anyone as able to appreciate hard issues and to do it with great humor and perspective. Thank you for all you’ve done.”

Among the gifts presented to Ray Hanna was a print of an old-west work by artist Lon McGargy, considered by some as the father of Arizona Western art (and the “Lon” of “Lon’s at the Hermosa”).

L to R: Ray Hanna, Ed Novak
Ed Novak