Thursday, October 2, 2008

Mrs. Helmsley's Trust; S.I. Pit Bull Update; Bulldogs in Phoenix

In n extension of the pet-centric indulgence that leads to off-leash policies in city parks at the expense other park users, The New Yorker reports on the trust for Leona Helmsley’s dog in Rich Bitch: The Legal Battle Over Trust Funds For Pets, by Jeffrey Toobin:

The twelve-million-dollar trust for the dog is bigger than any other single bequest in the will. On the whole, the will reflects contempt for humanity as much as love of dogs.

Under the law, certainly, it was Helmsley’s right to divvy up her money any way she wanted. And she is not the first wealthy person to use a will to show a preference for dogs over humans. ...

Is it right to give so much money to a dog—or to dogs generally? And what is the limit of such dispensations to pets? Will there come a time when dogs can sue for a new guardian—or to avoid being put to sleep? One philosopher draws a distinction between the needs of Trouble and those of dogs as a whole. Helmsley “did a disservice to the people in the dog world and to dogs generally by leaving such an enormous amount of money for her own dog,” Jeff McMahan, who teaches philosophy at Rutgers University, said. “To give even two million dollars to a single little dog is like setting the money on fire in front of a group of poor people. To bestow that amount of money is contemptuous of the poor, and that may be one reason she did it.

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In our August 22 post, we predicted that the Staten Island DA would get have the owners of the pit bulls who killed Henry Piotrowski indicted for second degree murder, and then plea-bargain the charges down. Yesterday’s Staten Island Advance reports that charges have indeed been upgraded from assault, but only to second degree manslaughter.

Under § 125.15 of New York’s penal law, a person is guilty of manslaughter in the second degree when (among other things) he “recklessly causes the death of another person”. Between second degree murder and second degree manslaughter, there are lots of other possible charges including first degree manslaughter and first and second degree aggravated manslaughter. All but second degree manslaughter are classified as “violent felonies” which, as we read the law, require some minimum sentence. Second degree manslaughter carries a 15-year maximum sentence but no minimum. So even without any plea bargaining, the owners here might never serve time. It does not appear that the DA is taking this case all that seriously.

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And here is a story about a city worker in Phoenix who was attacked and badly injured by two escaped American bulldogs (not pit bulls). A Phoenix police spokesman said that “it is unlikely the dog owners will face criminal charges.” One wonders whether the owner would have taken greater care that his dogs not escape if, as we have proposed, an owner of an unleashed dog that damaged people or property were criminally liable just as if the owner had done the damage himself.

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