You have probably heard of the decision by the First Judicial Department’s Appellate’s Division upholding the lower courts’ decision not to sign orders to show cause seeking the transfer of chimpanzees from one form of captivity to another, under the rejected narrative that writs of habeas corpus should be applied to the chimps because they are allegedly “persons.”

Citing to and relying the amicus brief filed by Pepperdine Law Professor Richard Cupp the court held that animal are not legal persons because they are unable to bear legal duties, or to be held legally accountable for their actions.  The Court described and rejected petitioners repeated attempts to have courts grant “personhood status” to chimpanzees.

Petitioner has filed four identical petitions in four separate state courts in four different counties in New York. Each petition was accompanied by virtually the same affidavits, all attesting to the fact that chimpanzees are intelligent, and have the ability to be trained by humans to be obedient to rules, and to fulfill certain duties and responsibilities. Petitioner has failed to present any new information or new ground not previously considered. The “new” expert testimony presented by petitioner continues to support its basic position that chimpanzees exhibit many of the same social, cognitive and linguistic capabilities as humans and therefore should be afforded some of the same fundamental rights as humans.

Interestingly, the NonHuman Right’s Project (NhRP) describes the chimpanzees for whom they filed petitions―Tommy, Hercules, Leo, and Kiko―as “clients.” 

This is curious, since, according to New York State’s Rules of Professional Conduct  (yes there are ethical standards for attorneys) there are a number of provisions that call into question whether these chimpanzees should be considered “clients.”

For example, Rule 1.4 requires a lawyer to inform their client of “any decision or circumstance with respect to which the client’s informed consent . . . is required.”  Did or could the chimpanzee “clients” provide informed consent to NhRP to file the petitions?

Rule 1.7 (Conflict of Interest: Current Clients), states in relevant part:

a lawyer shall not represent a client if a reasonable lawyer would conclude that . . . there is a significant risk that the lawyer’s professional judgment on behalf of a client will be adversely affected by the lawyer’s own financial business, property or other personal interests.

How does the NhRP’s interest in and requests for donations related to these petitions affect the lawyers; professional judgment related to petitions for writs of habeas corpus when they admit that the chimps’ care complies with state and federal law?

Rule 7.1 provides:

A lawyer or law firm shall not use or disseminate or participate in the use or dissemination of any advertisement that: contains statements or claims that are false, deceptive or misleading . . . [where] such an advertisement may include information as to . . . (2) names of clients regularly represented, provided that the client has given prior written consent . . .

The NhRP advertises the names of four chimpanzees as their “clients.”  There is no indication on the website that the chimpanzees― Tommy, Hercules, Leo, or Kiko―provided written consent (nor would it have been possible for them to do so).

It is clear that NhRP believes passionately in its mission statement, to “work for the recognition and protection of fundamental rights for nonhuman animals,” but perhaps they should be more careful about their use of words, like “clients.”

Words matter.

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