Every year, hundreds of complaints are filed about dogs in the city of Los Angeles. People claim that their neighbors' dog barks too much or that a particular dog poses an unreasonable threat to public safety. The City, too, can file complaints against dog owners about their allegedly dangerous dogs. These complaints are resolved through administrative hearings to determine whether a dog's behavior is problematic and, if so, the best way to address it.
While these types of hearings take place in jurisdictions around the country, the UCLA School of Law Dog Administrative Hearings Clinic is unique. This clinic gives UCLA Law students the opportunity to serve as hearing examiners in these quasi-judicial proceedings held under the authority of the City of Los Angeles Department of Animal Services (LAAS). Indeed, it is the closest law students can come to serving as judges while in law school.
The UCLA School of Law Dog Administrative Hearings Clinic is the product of an innovative partnership between LAAS and UCLA Law. Students in the clinic practice important legal skills while providing valuable public service. They learn how to conduct hearings and to analyze evidence in order to make fair determinations in each case. UCLA Law Professor Taimie Bryant and experienced professionals in LAAS provide extensive training before UCLA Law students can be appointed to serve as hearing examiners. After students are appointed, the same team supervises them.
Work in the clinic can be challenging. Victims of a dog's aggression can include dogs and other animals as well as humans. Sorting out what triggered a dog and predicting the dog's future likelihood of causing harm can be difficult, especially when there were no witnesses to an incident. Unique situations pose unique challenges. For instance, it can be effective to impose conditions of ownership to prevent specific dogs from interacting with people and other dogs unless under direct supervision. However, that is usually effective only when their owners live in residences that allow for restriction of the dog's interactions. What about dogs belonging to individuals without such residences? Those dogs and the people who care about them are greatly disadvantaged in a system that relies heavily on restricting dogs' interactions to prevent risk of harm to others. This is just one example of a difficult situation hearing examiners encounter and must resolve with fairness and compassion.
"The UCLA School of Law Dog Administrative Hearings Clinic gave me the incredible opportunity of applying practical lawyering skills to substantive administrative proceedings. I served as a hearing examiner, conducted full hearings regarding alleged dangerous and nuisance dog incidents, and submitted reports and recommendations as to the legal outcome of those incidents. This course gave me the opportunity to have a meaningful impact into the lives of dogs and dog owners in Los Angeles."
--Mike Matta '18
"As a hearing examiner, I learned to elicit evidence while facilitating emotionally-charged disputes concerning the conduct of people and their pets. The UCLA School of Law Dog Administrative Hearings Clinic gave me as an animal advocate the opportunity to improve the lives of dogs while ensuring that community members receive protections of local law."
--Stephanie Petrillo '18