Berkeley Law Deserves BetterPosted by John Melia, ALDF Litigation Fellow on October 17, 2012
|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 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.