Posted May 10, 2018 1:24 PM

Lawyer finds calling with hairy clients

By Daniel Tepfer
Connecticut Post writer

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — G. Kenneth Bernhard has spent more than two decades representing the interests of lower Fairfield County residents and now he has taken on advocating for their pets.

The former state representative for Westport, who works as an attorney for the Bridgeport law firm Cohen & Wolf P.C., was recently appointed one of 16 animal advocates in the state.

Already he has represented the interests of a dead golden retriever and this week he was appointed to advocate for two dogs allegedly badly injured by their owner’s boyfriend in Fairfield.

“I can’t stand gratuitous cruelty,” he explained. “It is especially troubling when it involves the torturing of animals.”

In October 2016, the state’s General Assembly passed Desmond’s Law, named after a dog who was starved, beaten and strangled to death by his owner, who later received accelerated rehabilitation, a pretrial probation program that resulted in the charges being dismissed.

The law established the unpaid position of advocate to assist the court in animal cruelty cases by gathering information, conducting research, writing briefs and making recommendations to the judge, thus easing the burden on often overworked prosecutors.

“A judge has to make a finding that good justice requires that there be an advocate for the animals in the particular case,” Bernhard said.

Bernhard had served as state representative for Westport from 1997 to 2005 and prior to that worked as town attorney in Westport and Wilton.

He has supported animal lobbying groups for many years. In 2010, he agreed to help the Kenyan Wildlife Service and Interpol in a sting operation to nab ivory poachers in the African country by posing as a tourist seeking to buy ivory.

Bernhard said he became an animal advocate to ensure that the perspective of the injured or killed animal goes into the resolution of the case.

But he acknowledges there has been some criticism of his new position.

“I’ve gotten some push back as in people asking me, ‘Why don’t you care more about what is done to women and children who are abused?’” he said. “But I have two answers to that,” he continues. “First, gratuitous cruelty is gratuitous cruelty to any living creature. And second, there is a serious connection between animal cruelty and abuse to children, it’s a proven fact.”

Bernhard’s first assignment as an advocate was his appointment by a judge in Stamford in March to advocate for the interest of a golden retriever named Betsy who died while in the care of a Darien man who was operating a dog boarding business.

Police said Betsy had been kept in a cage in a hot garage without food and water.

“In that case the man was exposing his 10-year-old son to the abuse of animals,” Bernhard said. “I argued against the man getting accelerated rehabilitation and the judge agreed with me.”

In April, Raymond Neuberger, 34, a former Representative Town Meeting member in Fairfield, was charged with four counts of malicious wounding of an animal after police said he severely injured his girlfriend’s two dogs, Thor and Charlie, both 5-year-old King Charles Cavalier Spaniels.

“In this case this fellow’s way to get back into his girlfriend’s life was to torture her dogs,” said Bernhard, who appeared in court on the case last week.

“He is alleged to have poured scalding hot water onto one of the dogs causing its hair to come off and using some instrument to break the other dog’s ribs. I don’t know anything about this defendant but if he did the things that are alleged I bet there are some other things he has done that would set off alarm bells.”

Bernhard said Supervisory Assistant State’s Attorney Margaret Kelley has been cooperative, offering to share information with him on the case.

He said he hopes by the next court date, June 8, to sit down with the defense lawyer, John R. Gulash, and discuss a possible resolution.

Gulash declined comment on the case.

In the meantime, Bernhard said the two dogs have been placed with the girlfriend’s parents in Danbury.

“Serving as an animal advocate is a public service to be an advocate for the accountability of gratuitous cruelty. I want to help the court to get a good perspective of the crime,” he added.

This report provided by The Associated Press.

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