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Maxine: Doggie Due Process Secured (January, 23, 2006)

Division One of the Washington Court of Appeals reversed the King County Board of Appeals in its upholding King County Animal Control’s decision declaring Maxine, a dog cared for by Peter Mansour of Kirkland, as vicious and ordering her removed from King County within 48 hours. This ruling overrides the practice of King County to presume dog guardians guilty until proven innocent and to hamstring their efforts at defending themselves by preventing them from subpoenaing witnesses or records.

The significance of this decision affects all dog owner-guardians in Washington State. Many jurisdictions will declare a dog dangerous and provide the owner with an appeal hearing to contest the allegations, which, if found to be valid by the hearing examiner, could result in a death sentence for the dog. Prior to today’s ruling, at least in King County, your dog could be declared dangerous and ordered confined or removed on threat of euthanasia and, if you contested the charges, your dog would be presumed guilty until proven innocent.  After today’s ruling, government must provide dog owners the same due process protections that are afforded speeders. When contesting parking tickets, the burden of proof is on the State to demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not) that you sped. In your defense, you can subpoena witnesses.

But when Mr. Mansour vehemently contested the allegation that his dog killed a cat off his property, he was forced to prove that King County Animal Control acted arbitrarily or capriciously. In other words, the Board of Appeals assumed that King County Animal Control was correct in issuing the order, even though this was the first opportunity for Mr. Mansour to contest these allegations. He was also prevented from subpoenaing witnesses, including critical veterinary records that could have demonstrated that his dog did not kill the cat in question. Furthermore, the notice outlining the offenses with which he and his dog were charged was erroneous in many respects.

Other jurisdictions with appeal processes that would appear to violate the ruling include the City of Everett (6.08.035), Pierce County, the City of Spokane (SMC 17G.050.320(C) and SMC 10.03.020) and the City of Tacoma (17.04.030). Other municipalities appear silent on precisely what due process protections are afforded, and are accordingly ready to be challenged. They include the Cities of Yakima, Pasco, Richland, and Kennewick, among others.

Click here for a copy of the published decision. (534kb, pdf)


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