A little education goes a long way, particularly when you are learning about the ins and outs of animal law.
On Jan. 31, the Washington State Bar Association (WSBA) is hosting its annual Animal Law Conference in Seattle. The event is offered as continuing education for lawyers whose cases may involve animal products, animal advocates or animals in general. However, the event is also open to local business owners and animal-care workers, including veterinary practitioners and nonprofit professionals, who need to learn about the interface between animals and the law.
Animal law is a wide field of practice that includes matters from veterinarian malpractice to the representation of animal activists who are contributing to the animal-rights movement. Animal-related laws have gotten considerable media attention in recent years as some states and even Congress attempt or succeed in passing “ag-gag” laws, which ban people from filming and exposing cruelty in places like slaughter houses or puppy mills.
Gemma Zanowski and co-chair Daniel Lutz planned the daylong conference to include topics from pet product intellectual property issues to free speech related to animal advocacy. The conference, entitled “Hear Us Roar: How Animal Law Issues are Shaping Modern Legal Practice,” draws lawyers from around Puget Sound to provide lectures and panels.
Zanowski is opening the conference with the lecture “Animals as Products: Pro or Problem?” This topic has many permutations in our society ranging from product liability, like a sick puppy from a pet store, to co-owning animals in cases of divorce.
The co-chairs have arranged for a wide variety of perspectives to be represented at the conference. Professor John Strait of the Seattle University School of Law is scheduled to present on ethics in animal law, including common dilemmas. Judge Jeanette Dalton of the Kitsap Superior Court will discuss her “behind-the-bench” perspective on animal law issues, including animals in domestic-violence protection orders.
Of special interest to retailers of pet-related products or services and to nonprofit animal groups, Susan Friedman, an intellectual-property associate patent attorney, is prepared to lecture on intellectual property and Internet law relating to animal organizations. Freidman says that knowledge of trademark and copyright protections is important for people starting their own animal groups. In particular, the reputation of an organization’s work should be secured by protecting the organization’s brand and name.
Among other topics, Friedman will discuss ways to protect intellectual property from misuse by others and additional legal concerns stemming from the use of different forms of social media.
The afternoon conference proceedings conclude with a panel of animal-advocacy experts. Jenn Kaplan, a local attorney with the Gilbert H. Levy Law Firm in Seattle, and Matthew Liebman, from the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), will speak, along with Darius Fullmer.
Fullmer is an animal activist who, along with five other individuals (and a corporation), was charged and convicted for communicating via email and the Internet about the need to end animal testing at Huntington Life Sciences in New Jersey. Kaplan, Liebman and Fullmer’s panel will cover the various aspects of free speech in the context of animal activism.
Kaplan practices criminal law in Seattle but also represents animal activists who have been charged for speaking out against animal abuse. With many years of experience in this field, Kaplan hopes to help fellow lawyers understand how to defend clients charged for exposing animal cruelty and speaking out against animal oppression. She will clarify the difference between free-speech rights, as opposed to making threats within the context of activism.
Additionally, Kaplan will share the importance of understanding the perspective of animal activists so their lawyers can effectively work for their defense.
Liebman is an ALDF senior attorney and provides conference-goers with information on “ag-gag” laws. Such laws have been proposed or even passed in states where animal-welfare organizations have been successful in exposing extreme animal cruelty, such as beating and skinning live animals in slaughterhouses or raiding dog-fighting rings.
To date, only one person has been charged under an “ag-gag” law. A young woman in Utah was charged for filming a factory farm from a public road, because some “ag-gag” laws criminalize even the collection of information. Liebman will discuss the implications of such laws as contrary to our First Amendment right of free speech. =
Empowering all advocates
The Animal Law Conference is open for the public to attend. While many of us may not spend our days considering the technical details of animal law and cases of free speech, these issues can hit us hard when we are confronted with a situation of animal cruelty or neglect.
Neighbors who see chained dogs in an adjacent yard or communities outraged by animal-hoarding conditions may wonder why some situations are not against the law. Often, the details of animal protection and cruelty cases are complex, but knowledge of such issues can also give us the power to act and empower us to be better advocates for animals, whether they are neighborhood dogs or animals in factory farms.
To learn more about the Animal Law Conference, visit the Washington State Bar Association website at wsba.org and search the conference title.
For more information on the Animal Legal Defense Fund, visit aldf.org.
CHRISTIE LAGALLY is a writer and the editor of “Living Humane,” a news site providing information on humane-conscious lifestyles at livinghumane.com. She also writes a blog called “Sniffing Out Home: A Search for Animal Welfare Solutions” at www.sniffingouthome.org. To comment on this column, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.