Berkeley Law Deserves Better

Posted by John Melia, ALDF Litigation Fellow on October 17, 2012

Guinea Fowl
Grandma, a rescued guinea fowl living at Harvest Home animal sanctuary (Photo by Christine Morrissey)

It’s easy to think of animal cruelty as something alien and strange. As something that happens in other communities than your own, and that it is committed by people who are nothing like yourself. After all, who would willfully cause harm to another living creature? What could cause a person to do such a thing? So when one of your own commits an act of harm that is beyond your understanding, it’s a shock. It makes you realize that your slice of society isn’t special or protected. There are no readily visible traits that mark a person who can commit cruel and unfeeling violence against an animal. These people are living around us, hiding in plain sight.

Last Friday, Eric Cuellar and Justin Teixeira, two students at Berkeley Law, were arrested in Las Vegas for brutally killing a helmeted guinea fowl at the Flamingo Hotel. They have not had the benefit of a full trial yet and so the charges are not proven, but the evidence from the police report is damning indeed. The students were caught on surveillance cameras chasing the frightened bird into a secluded area on the hotel grounds. Soon after, they were recorded emerging holding the animal’s body and severed head. Later, a witness overheard one of them boasting about having “fucking killed wildlife.” These two deserve to be heard and fairly tried as much as anyone, but given the available evidence I would be hard pressed to come up with an explanation to get them out of this one.

I deal with animal cruelty on a daily basis, but this is different. These suspects are students at Berkeley Law, the same school I graduated from a year and a half ago. They walk the same halls I did, listen to the same lectures, and enjoy the same quirky traditions that made Berkeley Law an excellent place to study. If the allegations against Cuellar and Teixeria are, as I suspect, true, it will bring down the reputation of an institution that I esteem highly. And for that I would feel betrayed.

To have Berkeley Law’s name associated with this malicious act of violence is a disservice to the school and those who study there. Berkeley was where my passion for animal law developed into the foundation of my career. Not just because of the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund or the Animal Law instructors there, but because of students and faculty members across legal specialties. It was my Consumer Law and Advanced Legal Research professors, who listened to my animal protection theories and arguments with open and curious minds. It was my fellow students, with focuses ranging from environmental law to taxes and patents, who showed genuine compassion for animals in their daily actions. The Berkeley I remember, and the one that still exists today as far as I can tell, is an environment where students can direct their love of animals, human and nonhuman, in productive and extraordinary ways. I was lucky to be a part of it.

Cuellar, Teixeria, Berkeley Law deserves better. And so does the legal profession.

Eric Cuellar Justin Teixeira
Eric Cuellar by Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Justin Teixeira by Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department

Taking glee in the suffering of a living, feeling being is never okay, and those who don’t understand that don’t deserve the trust that clients put in their attorneys. The Nevada legal system will take care of Cuellar and Teixeria’s criminal prosecution, but Berkeley Law has an independent obligation to determine whether it will send these two out into the world as lawyers. To that end I respectfully ask that Berkeley Law initiate independent disciplinary proceedings and investigation of this incident. Cuellar and Teixeria should, of course, have the opportunity to speak their piece, but if they can’t explain away the compelling evidence currently against them, they should be dismissed from the law school. Too many of us have worked too hard to make Berkeley Law an environment that inspires compassion for the powerless. Anyone who would torment and kill an innocent animal has no place there.

To those of you not affiliated with Berkeley Law, I ask you to stay vigilant wherever you are for acts of animal cruelty. Even if, especially if, you think your community is free from it. Violence like this is hard to confront, and it is easy to ignore or minimize it. Unless we take decisive action to oppose animal abusers, whoever they are, they will continue to cause harm without consequence.

7 thoughts on “Berkeley Law Deserves Better

  1. Mary Ann Bernardi says:

    Looks like two thugs coming out of Berkley Law School!

  2. M. Walters says:

    Will there be some form of petition or letter to Berkeley Law School regarding the murder of this bird?

  3. catkins says:

    They should be expelled. Period. It doesn’t matter if they were drunk or high on bath salts..whatever. This is pathological and deviant behavior–not a youthful prank–and no “explanation” can justify or excuse it. That they are capable of an action like this makes them unfit and undeserving of the privilege of pursuing a law degree and acquiring a professional license which would put them in the position of serving their fellow man–or animal.

  4. jan says:

    Very Very Sad….they know much better!!

  5. sara says:

    John, It was a pleasure meeting you this weekend at Lewis & Clark for their (awesome) animal law conference and again today at Golden Gate University’s panel regarding the foie gras ban. Given the fact that they both still law students, and as member of GGU’s SALDF, I believe that the SALDF chapters have a special responsibility to step up and let Boalt know that other Bay Area law students want to see them disciplined, not just in Court, but at school as well. Look for an email from me about this issue. Thank you for drawing attention to this issue.

  6. Gina Greisen says:

    Hello, my name is Gina Greisen with Nevada Voters for Animals and I’m the author of Cooney’s Law which makes the killing of Turk a felony in NV. ( *see June 2011) Please join our Justice for Turk fb page so we can ensure Justice is served in this henious case of animal cruelty.

  7. Peggy says:

    I live in Las Vegas, NV and my nephew holds a degree from USC Berkeley. We were thrilled when he was accepted by such a prestigious school and so proud when he earned his degree. It was with shock and dismay that I read about this and even more shocking when I read that these two young men were law students at Berkeley. If the school doesn’t take some action against them, it will damage both the reputation of the university and those who are are so proud to hold degrees from Berkeley. For the sake of both the current students and the alumni, I hope the university doesn’t decide that “wait and see” is the best thing to do.

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