When animals come to court


“I like pigs. Dogs look up to us, cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”

— Winston Churchill

“Horse sense is the thing the horse has that keeps it from betting on people.”

— W.C. Fields

It’s been a great week for the Delaware County Fair — an annual tradition stretching back to the very first exhibition and show of domestic animals and manufactures held on the first Friday in October of 1834. For more than a century, the fair would be held on grounds in the southwestern part of the county near Powell, but in 1937, the Agricultural Society decided to move the fair north to a tract of land on the northern edge of the City of Delaware.

Local attorney Joe Neville had been involved in Grand Circuit horse racing and, along with Hank Thompson, then the sports editor of this Delaware Gazette, successfully campaigned to have a new race brought to the track being built on the fairgrounds. The Gazette held a contest to name the race and “Little Brown Jug” was the winner. In 1946, the Jug ran for the first time with Delaware’s own Curly Smart driving Ensign Hanover to the win and the $35,358 purse.

As I write this on the eve of the running of the 74th Little Brown Jug, the weather has so far been perfect, and the crowds have been large and enthusiastic both on the midway and for all of the agricultural events that make the fair an event for the entire community.

But, of course, this is a column about the law and so the fair serves as a reminder about the intersection of agricultural issues and the courthouse. Agriculture is huge business in Ohio, and so it is not surprising that agricultural law is a major practice area among lawyers in the state. The Ohio State Bar Association has an entire committee devoted to Agricultural Law, and another solely devoted to Animal Law.

Agricultural law is nothing new. Some of the oldest recorded legal disputes are over livestock. Even in the United States, agricultural law was often on the forefront of the creation of legal systems as the nation spread west. Among the earliest recorded cases in California is one that came from a Justice of the Peace just months after California’s admission as a state.

To be fair, that Justice of the Peace, Richard C. Barry, had been appointed to his position in California without any legal education. In fact, he had little education at all and was famous for being eccentric. His decision, issued in Tuolumne County, was preserved for posterity as follows:

“This were a crimmminel caze or suite in which one Sirus Yod or Jod butcher were indited by me fur cruelity to animules. The only testimony projuced were that of Bill Foarde and Arkansaw who planely prooved that Cirus Jod had tied up a oxe in the sunshine all day without water or feade which were a shame and a outrage on the public morels and decency. Jud defended hisself by sayeing the oxe was not his property nor did he owne him that he only tied him up so his owner could git him. I found Jod gilty.”

Thank goodness for spell check in the writing of modern decisions. (Though, ironically, the autocorrect feature made it quite difficult to accurately reproduce Barry’s decision.) Sirus Jod was fined the costs of court and ordered to repay the cost of feeding and watering the ox, as well as the fees of the constable who attended to the animal.

Fifty years later, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin issued a far more refined decision involving a thoroughbred Holstein-Friesian heifer named Martha Pietertje Pauline. (A name that caused the court to comment that it was, “neither euphonious nor musical, but there is not much in a name anyway.”) A neighbor owned a “lowly born and nameless” bull. According to the court, the bull, “having aspirations beyond his humble station in life, wandered beyond the confines of his own pastures, and sought the society of the adolescent and unsophisticated Martha. As a result of this somewhat morganatic misalliance, a calf was born July 5, 1908. Its sinister birth disqualified the hybrid calf born from becoming a candidate for pink ribbons at county fairs, and it was sold to a Chicago butcher for $7.” The owner was awarded damages equal to the difference between the $7 and what a purebred calf would have sold for.

These early cases are not indicative of the complex litigation that agribusiness generates today but rather of the humble beginnings from which the modern practice sprang. The cases may have changed, but the ribbons at the fair have been a constant over the generations and congratulations go to all of those who participated in the fair this week.


By David Hejmanowski

Contributing columnist

David Hejmanowski is Judge of the Probate/Juvenile Division of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas, and, more importantly, this year got to judge the rabbit and poultry costume contest at the Delaware County Fair.

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