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Stradley Ronon Appellate Attorneys Victorious in Pennsylvania Supreme Court Decision Allowing Comfort Dogs in Courtrooms

September 23, 2021
Firm News

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

PHILADELPHIA – Stradley Ronon is pleased to announce that Pennsylvania’s highest court has issued an opinion in the Purnell case regarding whether comfort dogs can accompany testifying witnesses. The court broadly endorsed the use of comfort dogs, holding that “a trial court should balance the degree to which the accommodation will assist the witness in testifying in a truthful manner against any possible prejudice to the defendant’s right to a fair trial.”

Appellate attorneys Karl S. Myers and Melissa L. Perry filed an amicus curiae brief in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on March 8, representing a group of pro bono clients - the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (APA) and Lutheran Church Charities (LCC). On the facts presented, the court sustained the trial judge’s decision to allow a comfort dog in the courtroom. The Supreme Court also specifically endorsed and adopted the balancing approach of the Connecticut courts, as set forth in State v. Devon D., 138 A.3d 849 (Conn. 2016), which the firm’s amicus brief specifically pointed out to the court.

“We are very pleased with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision,” said Karl Myers, chair of the firm’s appellate practice. “This is a significant win for our clients, comfort dogs and the witnesses who need them.”

Stradley’s amicus brief focused 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.

Perry added, “In our brief, we advocated for the presence of trained dogs in the courtroom, and we are thrilled that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s well-reasoned opinion will benefit the judicial system for years to come. We also hope the decision offers guidance to other states facing this same legal question.”

“The presence of comfort dogs in the courtroom not only assists witnesses with providing accurate testimony, but ultimately better ensures more just outcomes for all involved,” says Lora Dunn, Director of the Criminal Justice Program at the Animal Legal Defense Fund. “We applaud the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in reaching this significant decision that will positively impact cases throughout the state.”

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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