MANATEE -- A new judge will rule on whether Padi, a dog who bit off part of a child's ear in June, will be put down.
On Wednesday, Judge Andrew Owens Jr. took over the case, replacing Judge Gilbert Smith Jr., who was originally assigned to the case and ordered Padi released last Friday while he reviewed the constitutionality of the state law that requires dogs to be killed if they cause a severe injury.
The reassignment comes five days after Chief Assistant County Attorney Robert Eschenfelder and attorney Charles Britt, on behalf of Padi's owners Paul Gartenberg and his wife, filed a joint motion asking the circuit court to intervene and rule on the constitutionality of the state law.
"Neither Mr. Britt nor I requested any reassignment as we were both comfortable with Judge Smith's impartiality," Eschenfelder said Wednesday. "The court is not required to provide reasons for an administrative reassignment of any given case."
Britt said he looks forward to presenting the case to Owens.
"I've known and practiced
in front of Judge Owens for many years and found him to be an extremely intelligent, compassionate, fair and practical judge," Britt said. "Everything you could ask for in a judge."
Padi, a 4-year-old male Labrador mix, bit the child's ear June 4 when the child and his babysitter were visiting the Pet Clinic, 714 60th St. Court E., Bradenton, which is owned by Gartenberg. Accounts differ on whether the child lunged at Padi in an effort to get him out from under the desk, or if Padi lunged at the child when he bent over to pick up a toy by the desk.
While Owens is from Sarasota County and Smith is from Manatee County, Eschenfelder said "legally Sarasota and Manatee counties are both within the 12th Judicial Circuit."
"Any circuit court judge within the circuit is lawfully permitted to preside over the case, and the chief judge is lawfully authorized to reassign cases as he deems is in the best interests of the circuit," Eschenfelder said.
According to the 12th Judicial Circuit website, Owens' current assignment is drug court/health care court.
"As for the current duty assignment of Judge Owens, circuit judges rotate among different divisions such as civil, criminal and family, and so over time develop expertise in all areas of the law," Eschenfelder said. "So the current duty assignment of any given judge does not make them incapable of presiding over any case."
A ruling in the case could take some time as the defendant has several weeks to file an answer to the complaint.
The defendant then can file a motion for summary judgment arguing the court should rule one way or the other. Once this motion is filed, then the parties will work with the court to set a hearing date.
If the court rules the law is unconstitutional, then Padi will be released and the case will be closed.
"The county would not appeal such a ruling, but would instead suggest it would further support the need for the Legislature to revise the law in its 2016 session, as our county commission requested recently," according to Eschenfelder.
If the court rules the law is constitutional, then Gartenberg, Padi's owner, would have the choice to either return to the hearing officer process or appeal the court's ruling to the Second District Court of Appeal.
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.