Animal Treatment Ethics, Stowaway Raccoon Division: Should A Lawyer Face Professional Sanctions For This?

Controversial Cruelty to Animals Day at Ethics Alarms continues (I don’t plan these things) with this legal ethics story out of Florida. The video above is at the center of it.

Florida disciplinary authorities have opened an investigation into the professional fitness of a lawyer who forced a stowaway  racoon off of his boat a long way from shore,  and thought it was all amusing enough to post a video of the incident on Facebook. The bar’s assumption is that the animal drowned.  The lawyer is now subject to prosecution for a violation of Florida’s wildlife laws.

In Florida, as in every other U.S. jurisdiction, one of the kinds of unethical conduct that can result in bar discipline is committing “a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respects,”  as stated by  Rule 8.4 (b) of the Florida Rules of Professional Conduct . Should the nautical lawyer’s conduct  qualify?

You may recall a far more egregious case of animal cruelty by a lawyer discussed here, where I questioned if a psychopath lawyer’s fatal attack on his girlfriend’s dog Snoopy really tells us anything about his trustworthiness as a lawyer. I wrote then,

Emotionally, I have no problem with seeing an animal abuser kicked out of my profession, but I don’t understand what values are being applied. Is it the commission of a crime? Most lawyer crimes don’t result in disbarment, if they don’t involve lying, cheating or stealing. …There is no basis on which to conclude that [Snoppy’s killer]  isn’t competent, zealous and trustworthy—just keep him away from pets.

Now, you may well ask, “Isn’t this at least “moral turpitude?” That’s the character flaw that will keep applicants for bar membership from getting a license due to character deficiency. There are two points related to that. First, moral turpitude might keep you out of the law at the outset, but it is not one of the official no-nos that will get you kicked out of it one you are a practicing lawyer.  The legal  definition of moral turpitude is an act or behavior that gravely violates the sentiment or accepted standard of the community. Brutalizing an animal would certainly qualify. The ABA, however, greatly narrowed the definition as it was applicable to legal discipline:

The 1983 Model Code (periodically amended by the ABA House of Delegates over the last 32 years) rejected the prohibition against “illegal conduct involving moral turpitude.” The ABA’s reason, which it included in a Comment to its Rule 8.4, was quite simple: “Moral turpitude,” the ABA advised, is a “concept can be construed to include offenses concerning some matters of personal morality, such as adultery and comparable offenses, that have no specific connection to fitness for the practice of law. Although a lawyer is personally answerable to the entire criminal law, a lawyer should be professionally answerable only for offenses that indicate lack of those characteristics relevant to law practice.” The American Law Institute’s Restatement of the Law Governing Lawyers § 5 (Third) (ALI 2000), agreed. It also concluded that “moral turpitude” is vague and may lead to discriminatory or otherwise inappropriate applications.”

This looks like an Ick Factor case to me. The abuse of poor Snoopy is so viscerally repulsive that the bar and the courts can’t keep their ethical priorities in order. It is also, as particularly ugly discipline cases often are, a matter of public relations and self-preservation for the legal profession. The bar association knows that not banning a lawyer like Pastor—one hopes there aren’t many–signals to the public that the bar welcomes brilliant advocates who may be monsters in their spare time. That is a dark and dangerous road the profession would rather avoid.

The lawyer in the Florida video also has some defenses the poodle-stomper did not.  Raccoons are wild animals, and cute as the are, they also bite. I wouldn’t want to be trapped on a boat in middle of the ocean with one, though I wouldn’t throw the critter overboard either, unless it was me or him. (My father had a home movie of me jumping out of a canoe and swimming to a lake’s shore when I saw a large spider in the vessel. Of course, I was only 15. All right, I was 26….) The raccoon may have also been a better swimmer than everyone assumes: unlike in the case of poor Snoopy, the lawyer wasn’t trying to kill the animal, just get it off the boat.

I do not, however, second the opinion of Law professor Dane Ciolino, writing on his Louisiana Legal Ethics blog, who says in discussing the case, “A Maryland lawyer was suspended for microwaving a cat. But a racoon? I think not.”

Wait—is the professor really saying that microwaving a live raccoon would not justify bar sanctions, but a cooking a cat does? That’s animal bigotry, but it is consistent with what I detected in the Snoopy case. If that lawyer had stomped to death a raccoon that wandered into the apartment, I doubt that he would have been disciplined.

Yet animal cruelty is animal cruelty. If gratuitously killing a dog or a cat shows that a lawyer is unfit to practice, so does unnecessarily killing a raccoon.


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24 thoughts on “Animal Treatment Ethics, Stowaway Raccoon Division: Should A Lawyer Face Professional Sanctions For This?

  1. Rabies isn’t worth it. Vermin like raccoons are a health threat as well as generally destructive. Short of being able to kill it safely I would have made it walk the plank as well.

    • Are the lawyers words violence? Is yelling at a wild animal animal cruelty? Is there a duty for lawyers to recuse wild animals?

    • But dogs can carry rabies too, hence the many shots our dogs have had. I don’t know offhand how many wild animals can have rabies. It would be nice if he could have quarantined the critter to let it escape and survive, but should you risk that if there are other passengers like children? I don’t think there was a better answer for passenger safety. It’s not like the raccoon was wearing a collar that said he had a rabies vaccine last week.

      The cold equation said the human lives take precedence over an unknown wild animal. His only mistake was acting like the probable ending of a life at his hands was a joke. This wasn’t a pond, but the less forgiving ocean.

      • I have no issue at all with anything they did. It was a tense moment having a wild animal appear while stuck out on a boat. The overall situation is funny in many ways, I would have been doubled over with laughter if I was there. The only duty the guy had was to make sure he and his passengers were safe. I will be stunned if anything happens to him, not only was it vermin but it happened on a boat, I bet the coast guard will have something to say if any legal action comes from this.

  2. First ; we don’t know what happened leading up to this video but I’m guessing that this raccoon came out from a hidden spot and scared the hell out of the people on the boat. Raccoon’s are wild animals and they’re viscous when they’re confronted and cannot escape!

    Second; if the animal could have been isolated to an area of the boat, which it looked to me like it’s at least possible, then I would have driven the boat up to shore and then forced it off the boat.

    Third; we cannot tell in the video how far they are from shore.

    Fourth; the raccoon was not literally forced, as in pushed, off the boat it fell off the boat. The video is proof of that fact.

    In my opinion; the Florida Bar is making assumptions (not good!) and overreaching their authority. If they are charged for animal cruelty that too is overreach.

    I don’t think anything will come of this, it has nothing to do with his ability to be a lawyer; although for appearances sake he might want to completely avoid cases regarding animal cruelty.

    • I don’t think anything will come of this, it has nothing to do with his ability to be a lawyer…

      I disagree. That this happened is a non event. The lawyer posting it online should get him disbarred lacking critical thinking skills and judgement.

      I would not trust (or hire) a lawyer who had so little sense, or had to use such an incident to say ‘look at me!’ Words to the wise, from many a rural landowner: Shoot, Shovel and Shut Up.

      Res Ipsa Loquitur in my book.

      • That was my line of thinking. Taking precautions to prevent harm or injury to yourself or others from a wild animal is not actionable.

        Recording the incident suggests the person took pleasure in seeing an animal now in distress from those precautionary measures.

        The lawyer is an ass. Many are.

        • I am an asshole and would have filmed it if I was there, it is funny. It is one of those situations that just happen and because no person was being injured at the time everything else is resonable and amusing. I don’t wantonly kill animals but I also wouldn’t think twice of shoving it overboard and laughing at the whole messed up situation.

        • I was prepared to hate this lawyer. That is, until I saw the video. The racoon fell off the boat. Is the Florida Bar now saying that lawyers have an affirmative duty to rescue stowaway wild animals who fall off boats into the water? That seems like an odd ethical obligation. I find the story questionable because there is only a 39-second clip of him yelling at the critter, grabbing for his gaffing stick, and filming the animal as it fell in the water and seemed to be swimming because there seems. There may be more to the story but I am too unmotivated to look for it. I say the lawyer walks.

          jvb

  3. As a long-time summer camp counselor, I have some thoughts on racoons:

    – I would never bet against one of them in a survival situation
    – That racoon was not “forced” off the boat. It may not have wanted to leave but could have readily dodged around that clumsy pole if it felt like the boat was a safe place to be
    – They’re cute, but also vicious little bastards. Trying to subdue and contain one with makeshift tools is asking for a pretty savage chomp attack on your hands and whatever else gets close.
    – Rabies is a definite danger with them, especially if they’re acting out of the ordinary (coming out in the daylight and not immediately retreating for cover, for example).

    As for the lawyer? For the reasons above I can’t blame him for wanting it off his boat. Asking why he didn’t try to trap a wild animal while armed with a life preserver and a gaff hook is like asking “why don’t you just shoot the gun out of the bad guy’s hand?”- it isn’t plausible. But the gratuitous mocking “So long, sucker!” as the boat leaves is pretty damn creepy.

    • I think you’re right. Most open-water boats don’t come with racoon traps just in case you are confronted by a raving beast in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico.

      jvb

      PS: Great line: “They’re cute, but also vicious little bastards.”

  4. I’m with Luke. Raccoons are cute and cuddly looking but they are very dangerous. When cornered they will go for you and are much worse than tangling with a dog. In fact, a raccoon can beat most dogs in a fight. The raccoon jumping overboard was the best outcome for all concerned. Like Luke said, if the raccoon wanted to stay on the boat he could have put a lot bigger fight. I don’t know how far out the boat was, but raccoons are strong swimmers and it may have made it back to shore. Raccoons have been known to lead a dog attacking them into water and then keep swimming away until the dog tires and drowns.

    • My question is this: This guy is a lawyer? How the hell does he find time to take a frickin’ boat out into the Gulf? Doesn’t he have discovery to do? A summary judgment to prepare and file? Exhibits to organize? Bill and collect from clients? He should be disbarred because he has too much time on his hands.

      jvb

  5. This is one of those situations that might not be as bad as it would originally appear. Racoons are very good swimmers, and can remain in the water for several hours. They routinely cross rivers and lakes and commonly catch and eat frogs and other aquatic animals that come within their reach. So, unless the racoon was a looong way from shore, it likely survived. They usually avoid humans and, as was pointed out earlier, one that does not avoid people is cause for concern. In my area, racoon populations are increasing as hunting pressure decreases. (‘Coon hunting -with dogs- is a traditional but waning nocturnal sport in the South.)

    I recently encountered a racoon that was trying noisily to open a container of birdseed on my porch at around midnight. The racoon, startled, assumed an arched-back posture like a frightened cat, then turned and headed for the woods. That was a month ago and I haven’t seen or heard any sign of his return. This is all I require of racoons around my property. Leave me and my stuff alone and I will leave you alone. I have never had the need to eat a racoon and hope I never do.

          • A golfer named Christiaan Bezuidenhout apparently said, “It’s kind of like airline food in a sense: everything tastes like chicken eventually. However, your version is far more profound, and deserves its own recognition. Kudos!!!

            • I’d love to take the credit but the idea popped fresh in my mind when I saw Slick’s entry plus the word “rattlesnake” and remembered that “tastes just like chicken” was the first practical joke I ever fell for. I can still remember not only that the flavor of reptile was nothing like what was promised but that the assurance I would “get it” if I just chewed it awhile made it worse. And that I’d heard a guy just a couple of days ago encouraging his friend to try the frogs legs featured on a menu in a restaurant window around the corner using the same old line. I’ve had escargot and liked it a hell of a lot more than rattler, but it wasn’t chicken-like either. Though I guess garlic does make a difference. (Apparently, alligator and rabbit and some game birds are on the list as well — of course, other birds would make sense). But I was still steaming from the feel of chomping on that bit of snake when I remembered I had just recently been thinking I’d been losing taste buds for about 30 years so it really didn’t matter … because “everything tastes like chicken … eventually.” And that is more sadly true than clever.

              On the tastier side, though, I do appreciate that hot Chinese mustard more these days.

  6. I’m not sure that kicking the racoon off the boat wasn’t necessary. It’s a wild animal that’s known to carry diseases and parasites harmful to humans. Depending on how far offshore we were I probably would have kicked it off the boat and then tried to find a way to kill it quickly – real gun, spear gun, an improved club, etc. What is wrong is not accelerating it’s death, filming it, and putting it on the internet for kicks.

    How does this differ from the couple that took a picture with they lion they killed you might ask?
    – this animal is going to die a slow shitty death and no one wants to be reminded of that when they hop on social media, it’s rude even to people who enjoy big game hunting (big game hunters hunt with huge rifle to ensure a humane kill, this is not that)
    – you can’t enjoy this video without recognizing that it’s ostensibly dark humor relies on the inhumane death of an animal, posing with your trophy kill is certainly not the same thing
    – it shows a shocking lack of reverence for life, most hunters are avid conservationists and very likely would not rejoice at the pointless inhumane death of this animal, this guy thought it was funny

    I’ve seen all kinds of animals being killed on video. Everything from live stock processing plants, to big game hunts, to nature videos, hell I’ve seen people killed on video (mostly like military helmet cam footage). I’ve never come closing to tearing up – this one did make me tear up though. That’s a shitty way to die and they didn’t do a damn thing about it. Hell they recorded it and put it on the internet. Fucking pricks.

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