New Jersey Considers Court-Appointed Lawyers for Pets

By Richard Dahl on March 04, 2022

New Jersey is considering a law that will give some animals the right to have their own legal representation.

A bill that recently passed out of the General Assembly's Judiciary Committee would provide court-appointed legal advocates for animals when they experience "pain, stress, or fear at human hands."

The New Jersey Senate passed a version of the bill last year, but because it never made it to the Assembly, the Senate would have to take it up again this session before the measure would become law.

The Garden State Would Be No. 3

If it passes, New Jersey would be the third state to allow legal advocates for animals. Connecticut was the first state to do so, in 2017, and Maine followed suit in 2020.

The legislation in New Jersey calls for the creation of a two-year pilot Statewide Animal Advocate Program, which would allow judges hearing criminal cases that affect the health or welfare of animals to appoint volunteer lawyers and third-year law students as advocates.

The state administrative director of the courts would maintain an advocates list, and backers of the law predict there will be no shortage of lawyers and students willing to represent the animals pro bono.

The Advocates' Role and Duties

The program is patterned after laws that allow courts to appoint advocates for children. The animals' advocates would act as liaisons between the abused animals and the courts as cases move through the system.

Animals often languish in shelters as cases wind through the system, and the New Jersey bill would give advocates the authority to locate and recommend foster homes for them. In addition to monitoring the case and attending hearings, the advocates could make recommendations that take the animals' best interests into account.

The unfortunate reality is that too many animal abusers go unpunished for their appalling and inhumane crimes simply because the victims lack an advocate," Assemblyman Raj Mukherji told the Animal Legal Defense Fund. "This bill, modeled off a successful implementation in Connecticut, ensures that animal victims are given their day in court and animal abusers face justice for their unlawful actions."

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