The Dogfight Moves From the Pit to the Courthouse

Posted by Dana Campbell, ALDF's Chief Contract Attorney on July 20, 2007

Dana Campbell, ALDF’s chief contract attorney and a former deputy district attorney, blogs this week on the indictment of NFL quarterback Michael Vick. Read on for ALDF’s take on the issue, and what you can do to help.

With my blog assignment falling this week on the heels of the announcement that NFL player Michael Vick was indicted in Virginia on federal dog fighting conspiracy charges, it would be negligent of me not to comment on it here. The easy thing to do would be to pile on with all the other media commentators, animal advocacy groups, and most of the public decrying the gruesome details of dogfights and the outrageousness of the facts alleged, and wag my finger in disapproval. But I’m not gonna do that. Frankly, I’ve seen it all before in the many other less high-profile animal fighting cases that we’ve worked on at ALDF, and I’m glad the public and the media are finally catching on to the fact that this horrendous “sport” exists and is pervasive in our midst, apparently even among millionaire athletes.

Instead I’d like to share with you ALDF’s unique perspective, being that we are a law organization for animals, peopled by lawyers experienced in the practice of criminal and other types of law. What surprised us most about the announcement this week was the fact that the charges were filed not by the local Surry County district attorney based on Virginia’s fairly typical dog-fighting statute, but by the U.S. Attorney’s office using federal conspiracy laws and a little-used (if ever?) federal dog fighting lawHere are the actual charges that were filed in Richmond Virginia on July 17th.

While the federal dog fighting law was updated a bit in May of this year, it has been around for years, yet I found only 1 reported appellate case involving this law being used by federal prosecutors; 3 others discussed whether this federal fighting law preempted state anti-cruelty or fighting laws, and in all 3 cases the courts ruled it did not (an interesting idea for the local DA to consider…). Nearly all animal anti-cruelty laws are state laws tried in state courts. Thus it has been particularly difficult for ALDF to get federal prosecutors, who are generally inexperienced in animal cases, interested in any animal cruelty matter that occasionally does come under federal jurisdiction by virtue of either happening on federal lands or being prohibited by a federal law. Years ago we tried to get several U.S. attorney offices interested in shutting down and prosecuting those responsible for “crush videos” (made underground for fetishists who enjoyed watching small animals or birds being crushed to death by a woman’s high heel) after the federal law was passed making them illegal. We got few takers.

Not so with the high-profile, career-making prosecution of the Vick dogfight case. With it being brought in federal rather than state court, it will have the advantages of a wider jury pool, greater sentences that can actually be enforced (I hear there’s more room in federal prisons than in state ones!), and all of the financial resources of the U.S. government.

Now it looks like we’ve got a good public spectacle going: the probably limitless resources of Michael Vick and his football millions against the limitless resources and ambition of a federal government prosecutor.

That’s a fight I won’t mind watching.

What you can do:

1) Contact the commissioner of the NFL and urge the league to suspend Vick.

National Football League, Inc.

Commissioner: Roger Goodell

280 Park Ave.

New York, NY 10017

Phone: 212-450-2000

Fax: 212-681-7599

2) Contact the owner of the Atlanta Falcons and urge him to direct his coaching staff to exclude Vick from all team activities (including workouts and practices) regardless of what the NFL does.

Atlanta Falcons Football Club

Owner and CEO: Arthur M. Blank

President and General Manager: Richard McKay

4400 Falcon Pkwy.

Flowery Branch, GA 30542

Phone: 770-965-3115

Fax: 770-965-2766

3) Contact the NFL Players Association, which works to promote the image of the players, to denounce Vick’s alleged involvement with dogfighting.

National Football League Players Association

Executive Director: Gene Upshaw

President: Troy Vincent

2021 L St. NW

Washington, DC 20036

Phone: 202-463-2200

Fax: 202-296-3486

Toll Free: 800-372-2000

4) Contact Nike and thank them for dropping their endorsement contract with Vick. In response to public outcry, Nike has dropped their contract with Vick! Please send them a letter of thanks.

Nike

Chairperson: Philip H. Knight

President, CEO, and Director: Mark G. Parker

1 Bowerman Dr.,

Beaverton, OR 97005-6453

Phone: 503-671-6453

Fax: 503-671-6300

Toll Free: 800-344-6543