Bill filed to provide for volunteer attorney ‘animal advocates’

Bill filed to provide for volunteer attorney ‘animal advocates’

Sen. Jennifer Bradley

A Northwest Florida lawyer-lawmaker has filed a bipartisan measure that would allow volunteer attorneys to serve as “animal advocates” in court.

Sen. Jennifer Bradley of Flemming Island filed SB 272 on October 30. Democratic Rep. Lindsay Cross of St. Petersburg, and Rep. Berny Jacques, R-Clearwater, filed the companion, HB 297.

Bradley, who chairs the Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee, described herself as an “animal lover” in a joint statement that stresses the preservation of court resources.

“These advocates will ensure an informed process and, especially in cases of hoarding, provide helpful resources for the judicial process,” Flemming said.

The proposal has long been a priority of the Animal Law Section and Humane Society.

The latest version of the bill would allow judges in animal cruelty prosecutions to appoint a “separate advocate to represent the interests of justice.”

The court could appoint an advocate on its own motion or at the request of a party, but a denial could not be appealed.

Modeled after guardians ad litem who represent abused and neglected children, the animal advocates would be permitted to monitor proceedings, attend hearings, review animal control records, and make recommendations to the court.

Lawyers, emeritus attorneys, or certified legal interns who volunteer to serve as animal advocates would have to receive special training and “have an interest in animal issues and the legal system,” according to the bill.

The measures requires the Animal Law Section to maintain a registry of qualified volunteers.

Cross, an environmental scientist, calls the proposal “a proactive” way to protect dogs and cats who suffer “horrific” abuse. She also stresses that the measure would not strain court budgets.

“This bill will provide cost-savings tools to our courts and a trusted advocate to represent the interests of justice,” she said.

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