An anti-wise use Weiss guy

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 1995:

SANTA ROSA, California– In
a former life,” says Larry Weiss, “I prac-
ticed criminal law for 18 years. Eventually I
grew tired of making the streets safe for drug
dealers. Then, in 1985, I providentially
encountered a book, Peter Singer’s Animal
Liberation, which convinced me that I could
remain a lawyer and be proud of my work.”
Ten years later, Weiss grins, “I
mostly defend dog criminals. Or dogs who
are accused of criminal behavior,” he cor-
rects himself. “Especially those of whom it
is suspected they might eventually commit a
crime because someone thinks they resemble
a dog that might have a criminal disposition
under some other circumstance.”

As one of the few practicing
lawyers to make animal rights law a fulltime
specialty, Weiss earns a fraction of typical
lawyers’ wages in an animal-friendly office
that looks like a den. He answers his own
telephone, does his own typing, raised three
daughters as a single parent, and at age 52
still plays hardball for fun and exercise.
“Second base,” he says. “I’m a
glove man. But I’m thinking about switching
to softball this year. The reflexes are going.”
Swings the bat
Weiss hits a bit, too, on behalf of
organizations including Sonoma People for
Animal Rights, as an active member since
1987; the Marin Humane Society, a client
since 1990; and the Sea Wolf Alliance. He
has represented national groups at times,
including In Defense of Animals and Last
Chance for Animals, but his enthusiasm is
for work at the local level. “I like being part
of a small grassroots group,” he explains,
“and I recommend it to everyone, especially
those who have only seen animal rights as fil-
tered through the large national groups and
their mailers. Small, local groups exemplify
democracy in action, and to watch people
become vegetarian or go out on the picket
line for the first time is truly inspirational.”
One of SPAR’s most successful
projects is monitoring local cruelty cases.
“We attend, en masse, all cruelty cases that
go to court,” Weiss says. “One case we lob-
bied concerned a person who had intentional-
ly split his dog’s head open with an ax. This
case resulted in a felony conviction; an
eight-month jail sentence actually served,
not suspended; plus 250 hours of community
service and a three-year probation. That’s the
kind of sentence all animal abusers should
get, and an example of the kind of impact a
local group can have.”
For Marin Humane, Weiss coordi-
nates the California Animal Legal Library.
“This program assists in cruelty prosecu-
tions,” he states, “by maintaining a plead-
ings file and list of competent forensic
experts, including veterinarians and humane
officers. We have acquired specialized infor-
mation about how to prosecute animal collec-
tors, which we make available to prosecutors
throughout the country upon request.”
Weiss takes an advisory role with
the Sea Wolf Alliance, a one-person organi-
zation run by Jeanne McVey from a boat in
Sausalito, California––or out of her knap-
sack, anywhere from Anchorage, Alaska, to
Cairo, Egypt.
“Jeanne is doing an incredible job,”
Weiss testifies, “trying to protect wolves,
coyotes, foxes, and other predators who are
the subjects of continuous extermination
campaigns. The Animal Damage Control
program is still alive and well, folks, with
an annual budget of $31 million. Anyone
interested should call Jeanne at 415-331-
5606. I guarantee she will put you to work.”
Berkeley grad
Born in Chicago, Weiss earned his
law degree from the University of California
at Berkeley in 1966. Classmates included
Mario Savio, whose 1964 speech in defense
of civil liberties from the top of a patrol car
in Sproul Plaza touched off a decade of cam-
pus protest. “The moral persuasiveness of
any movement depends upon people who are
willing to put their lives on the line,” Weiss
observes. “I firmly believe we must not lose
our connection to the streets.”
Defending activists is accordingly
another big part of his practice. One favorite
case came in 1989, when “I was one of two
attorneys representing activists who went to
Grizzly Island in Solono County to protest
the tule elk hunt. They scrambled through
swamps in the middle of the night to get
there, since the sole bridge had been closed
to everyone but hunters. Twenty-eight peo-
ple were arrested. Twenty-four were convict-
ed, and four were acquitted in the course of a
six-day trial. I went to see Doll Stanley,
Lise Giraud, and Brian Boury while they
were serving their sentence. We touched
hands on opposite sides of the glass and all of
us laughed. I knew then that we had won.
The animal abusers and their agents can
arrest you and put you in jail, but they can’t
defeat you unless you let them.”
Also in 1989, Weiss represented
several activists who were threatened with
jail for refusing to testify before a federal
grand jury that was looking into the 1986
arson that leveled an almost-finished labora-
tory building at the U.C. Davis.
“If you take the number of people
who have been jailed for refusing to testify
before federal grand juries, six, and com-
pare it to the number of indictments, one,
and convictions, none to date, the conclu-
sion is inescapable,” Weiss insists, “that
jailing witnesses, rather than investigation
for the purpose of indictment, is a major goal
of such bodies. Many well-intentioned peo-
ple have been intimidated by the grand
juries,” at least eight of which have been
empaneled to look into alleged Animal
Liberation Front activity during the past six
years. “They become afraid to be involved
with people who were subpoenaed, since it
might lead to their own subpoena, or to give
money to a subpoenaed organization,
because their names might appear on a list
somewhere.”
In 1991 Weiss asked for half an
hour to address the annual Summit for the
Animals, a gathering of national animal
rights group leaders, “about grand juries and
their imminent use against the movement. I
was told that there was no time on the agen-
da, and that I couldn’t speak anyway because
I was not the head of an organization that had
existed for a sufficient number of years. But
I noticed that at least two hours at that confer-
ence were dedicated to detailing how to raise
funds. This was discouraging to me because
it indicated the priorities of the leadership.”
Weiss may have overestimated the
influence of the grand juries in everything but
their apparent effect in slowing down the
ALF, which struck more often in 1987 and
1988 than in all the years since combined.
But representing activists who refuse to testi-
fy continues to keep him busy in courtrooms
from Spokane to Phoenix.
Meanwhile, with wise-use
wiseguys running amok in legislative bodies,
Weiss sees hope in the courtroom. “Laws are
shaped by courts as well as by legislation,”
he reminds. “Often the courts will intervene
when an issue is too hot for legislators. I feel
the future of animal law lies both with legis-
lation and court victories. When you have a
s i m p a t i c o legislature, then legislation is the
easier path. However, the current legislative
tenor tells me that we will be lucky to hold on
to what we already have in the way of
humane and environmental legislation.
Judges, being appointed for longer terms or
for life, are less responsive to the politics of
the moment. In political climates such as
exists at present, that is an advantage.
Consequently, I predict more emphasis on
court decisions during the next two years of
Republican hegemony.”
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