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Stradley Ronon Attorneys File Amicus Brief Advocating for Comfort Dogs to Accompany Vulnerable Testifying Witnesses in Pennsylvania Courtrooms

Karl S. Myers & Melissa L. Perry Represent Pro Bono Coalition Including Leading Animal Rights Advocates, Prosecutors and Members of the Religious Community

March 26, 2021
Firm News

PHILADELPHIA – Stradley Ronon is pleased to announce that appellate attorneys Karl S. Myers and Melissa L. Perry filed an amicus brief in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court representing a group of pro bono clients - the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (APA) and Lutheran Church Charities (LCC) – in a case before the state’s highest court regarding whether comfort dogs can accompany testifying witnesses.

“We are honored to file this amicus brief and represent a partnership between allied groups, who are working to advance an emerging issue that benefits the most vulnerable in our community – victims, witnesses and children,” said Myers, chair of the firm’s appellate practice. “We are confident in our argument and are hopeful the Supreme Court will agree with our advocacy.”

Stradley’s amicus brief focuses on three principles: 

  • Courts consistently employ their discretionary power to permit comfort dogs in aid of testifying witnesses.
  • The use of comfort dogs to assist testifying witnesses is not inherently prejudicial.
  • Comfort dogs provide benefits to testifying witnesses and ultimately aid in the courts’ administration of justice.

“The firm’s willingness to help crime victims, animals and other communities in need, including humble non-profits like ours is a testament to the firm’s leadership and commitment to a culture of contribution that gives back for generations to come,” said David LaBahn, President and Chief Executive Officer at APA.

The brief was filed on March 8, 2021, and the court is expected to issue its decision sometime in the coming months. “Today, over 250 comfort dogs work in courtrooms across 41 states, including Pennsylvania, and I’m optimistic that through our brief, we will be able to show the Court that there is a need for the presence of trained dogs in the courtroom for the benefit of the judicial system,” added Perry.

“Courtroom comfort dogs are uniquely able to support testifying witnesses—which leads to more just outcomes,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “In our amicus brief, we argue not only in recognition of dogs’ role in the administration of justice, but the fundamental reason courtroom dogs are uniquely able to be of aid to witnesses; we acknowledge that animals are, by their very nature, legally significant. The comfort and support that dogs provide to witnesses works precisely because each dog is someone not something.”

“The use of a highly trained comfort dog has such a powerful impact on those who are hurting or stressed, including those called to testify in court. The presence of the comfort dog has been shown to provide these individuals with the calmness necessary to testify in court. The comfort dog can provide serenity, unconditional love and acceptance to the person testifying and can be a powerful tool in helping witnesses speak and share in a courtroom,” said Tim Hetzner, President and CEO and Founder of the LCC K9 Comfort Dogs.

Myers is a leading Pennsylvania appellate lawyer who has personally argued and briefed numerous precedent-setting cases before the appellate courts of Pennsylvania and other jurisdictions. He maintains a particular focus on cases before the Pennsylvania Supreme, Commonwealth and Superior Courts, as well as the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, including litigation involving state and federal constitutional challenges, Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law requests, government contracting and bid-protest disputes, insurance insolvency and regulatory matters, state administrative agency disputes, complex commercial actions, and many other types of civil cases. Karl has served as counsel of record in hundreds of cases before Pennsylvania’s appellate courts.

Perry is an accomplished Pennsylvania and California lawyer who concentrates her practice on civil litigation, representing corporate and institutional clients in a wide variety of matters, with a particular emphasis on employment and labor, complex commercial, class action, and appellate matters. She has worked on numerous high-profile cases concerning state and federal constitutional issues, public records laws, trade secret litigation, and many others. In 2017, the publication California Lawyer named Perry a California Lawyer of the Year for her successful representation of the State Bar of California in a writ of mandate matter.

About Stradley Ronon
Counseling clients since 1926, Stradley Ronon has helped private and public companies – from small businesses to Fortune 500 corporations – achieve their goals by providing pragmatic, value-driven legal counsel. With offices in seven strategic locations, our responsive team of more than 200 attorneys seamlessly addresses the full spectrum of our clients’ needs, ranging from sophisticated corporate transactions to complex commercial litigation.

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