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Appeals court overturns dog's death sentence
Seattle Times staff reporter
The state Court of Appeals has overturned a King County-imposed death sentence for Maxine, a 7-year-old mixed-breed dog owned by software pioneer Peter Mansour.
After the German shepherd/Husky mix allegedly injured a neighbor's cat near Mansour's Kirkland home in May 2003, King County Animal Control ordered him to move the dog out of the county, or have the dog euthanized.
The injuries to the cat were so severe it had to be euthanized.
The King County Board of Appeals upheld the Animal Control order, and King County Superior Court affirmed the board's decision.
But the Court of Appeals found that Mansour's right to defend Maxine had been violated. The case was remanded to the Board of Appeals.
"Due process requires that he be able to subpoena witnesses and records," the court said in a unanimous ruling issued Monday. "Because the board refused to let him do so, he was prejudiced in his defense against the animal control order."
Mansour, who has moved from the house where the incident occurred but still lives in Kirkland with Maxine and his other dog, Kobe, said, "It's good to have a good dog story. It was a change that needed to be made in the King County code."
"It's scary the legal system can be as arbitrary as it is," he said. "I'm not like one of those crazy dog people. I could have moved but felt like fighting an inequity in the legal system."
King County attorneys say they may appeal the case to the state Supreme Court.
Mansour, who founded Sproqit, a Kirkland technology company, figures he has spent $10,000 in his legal fight for Maxine, a dog he rescued from the pound. King County had stayed the dog's expulsion or execution while the case was on appeal.
But John Zeldenrust, attorney for King County, said there is no question that Maxine killed the neighbor's cat. He acknowledged the case may be precedent-setting.
"Our belief is that the procedures were adequate," he said. "But there may be areas where they need to be tightened up."
Mansour's attorney, Adam Karp of Bellingham, said the case will set a precedent in how King County handles vicious-animal cases.
"This is an important victory for due process," he said.
King County Animal Control said it was up to Mansour, as Maxine's owner, to prove his innocence, said Karp. But the Court of Appeals said it was up to the agency to prove the dog's guilt.
"What this has done is give dog owners and guardians the right to subpoena witnesses, demand an accurate and thorough recitation of the violations, and the burden is properly back on the government's shoulders.
"Prior to [Monday'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," said Karp.
According to the court opinion, Mansour went to work and left Maxine and Kobe with his housekeeper who, despite his instructions to keep them inside, let them out. Maxine escaped from the yard, and the housekeeper saw the dog pick up the neighbor's cat in its mouth.
Mansour took the cat to a veterinary hospital. It was diagnosed with a broken jaw, broken pelvis and severe spinal-cord damage. The cat was euthanized, and Mansour was given a notice that Maxine had exhibited "vicious propensities" and was in violation of county code.
Mansour was given 48 hours to move Maxine from King County or she would be euthanized.
Mansour appealed the order to the King County Board of Appeals and King County Superior Court, which upheld Animal Control's decision.
"Given the restrictions on Mansour's ability to present his case, the risk of erroneous deprivation of Mansour's interest in Maxine is significant," the appeals court ruled.
"Allowing Mansour and other pet owners to subpoena witnesses and records would substantially minimize this risk without imposing any burden on the county."
Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or email@example.com
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