A judge and his dogs: Victims have rights in New Mexico courts

A judge and his dogs: Victims have rights in New Mexico courts

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon this past September, I decided to take my two red and white border collies for a trek down by the river. As Coco Puff, Abbie and I walked down a quiet residential street, a loose dog suddenly and viciously attacked us.

There was no warning. There was no time to react.

What then happened was bad, really bad. I will never forget this experience.

I want to thank a gentleman by the name of Joe Lujan who stopped to help us, as well as two ladies who stopped and called 911. Without their assistance, I do not believe that Coco Puff would be alive today.

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I also want to thank the Albuquerque Police Department officers who arrived quickly and conducted an investigation. And a huge thanks to Albuquerque Animal Welfare Officer C. Rael, who was extremely professional in his handling of this situation, from start to finish.

There are no villains in this story. Some men were working on the air conditioner of a home and inadvertently left the backyard gate open. The dog got out of the yard and attacked us.

The owner of the dog is a very nice gentleman who took responsibility for his dog and he reimbursed me for Coco Puff’s vet bills.

An administrative hearing subsequently was held to determine whether the attacking dog was dangerous. I was summoned to testify and did so. The hearing officer, in my opinion, made a wise and just decision. The process worked.

Today, I know how it feels to have something horrible and unexpected happen to you. I understand how it feels to be frightened, angry and depressed. One minute I was walking my dogs on a beautiful autumn afternoon and the next minute I was fighting for my dogs’ lives. The memories have faded somewhat, but they are still there.

I know what it feels like to be called to court – or in my case, an administrative hearing – and to testify as a witness.

And finally I have some idea of what post-traumatic stress must feel like. Every time I take my dogs out for their daily walk I become uneasy when I see another dog. My stomach clenches. I pull my dogs close to me.

I am always on the alert for another sudden attack by another dog. It may never happen again but the fear of it is always there.

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This is a good, albeit unfortunate, lesson for me as a judge of how other people must feel and cope when they are victims of horrific or unexpected and traumatic experiences. Some of the people I see in court are victims of crimes. Other people have been injured as the result of negligent or intentional tortious misconduct of others.

People who have been harmed have legal remedies.

When someone is the victim of a crime, he or she has rights and protections under the New Mexico’s Victims of Crimes Act. Included among other rights, a victim has the right to be notified of every hearing, the right to restitution and the right to address the court at the sentencing of the defendant.

New Mexico’s criminal courts ensure and protect these rights.

When someone is damaged or injured in non-criminal situations, that person has civil remedies, ranging from lawsuits for monetary damages to injunctive, administrative or declaratory relief. Our state’s civil courts exist to enforce these remedies.

Judges have several responsibilities, one of which is to protect the victim.

Judges restore order to chaos. We try to make sense out of insanity. We do our best to try and make people who have been injured whole again. Judges try to provide closure so that victims can move on with their lives, as much as possible.

Judges hold responsible the convicted criminals and the tortfeasors who are found liable by juries.

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I still go on my daily walks with Coco Puff and Abbie. We once again enjoy our time on the bosque trails. The only difference now is that I carry my 7-iron – it was not doing me any good on the golf course – or a sturdy walking stick.

Just in case.

Because the memories are still there.

Judges are human beings, too. We are just like everyone else. Who knew?

Daniel E. Ramczyk is a Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court judge. Opinions expressed here are solely those of the individual judge.

Published at Fri, 02 Dec 2016 07:05:09 +0000

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