Donkey Has His Day In Court
The star witness paced outside the courthouse Wednesday, breathing hard, his head down, an American flag bandanna around his neck.
He said nothing to the media swarming around him. He just twitched his huge ears and swatted flies with his tail.
People had accused him of all sorts of things: He was loud.
He was aggressive.
He smelled bad, too.
He was there to show the men and woman of the jury that he was none of those things.
“Call your first witness,” Judge Steven Seider said.
“Your honor, we call Buddy,” attorney Jeff Sandberg replied. “The donkey.”
With that, Buddy the donkey came clip-clopping down the black-and-white tile hallway of the North Dallas Government Center, where two neighbors were fighting about his presence in a back yard just west of Preston Hollow.
“Bringing a jackass into the courtroom? Don’t y’all see enough of them?” an onlooker asked.
Buddy was led down a hallway at the
North Dallas Government Center for his court appearance.
As he got to the courtroom, the 3-year-old, 300-pound donkey paused. But with a quick shove from his owner and a tug on his red rope, Buddy walked slowly to the bench. He stared at the jury.
For several minutes, Buddy held his own. He remained calm. He was polite. He didn’t crack under cross-examination and confess. If he had to go, he held it in.
And when defense attorneys challenged whether he was in fact the real donkey in question, he didn’t blink an eye.
“Your honor, I have no questions,” Mr. Sandberg said.
“Nothing from me, your honor,” said defense attorney Quinn Chandler.
“The witness is excused,” Judge Seider said.
Buddy went outside. The proceedings continued.
According to the defendant, oilman John Cantrell, his neighbor – high-profile attorney Gregory Shamoun – started a shoving match with him in March 2006 after he complained to the city about a storage shed Mr. Shamoun was building.
To retaliate, Mr. Shamoun brought Buddy from his ranch in Midlothian to the back yard of his 5,300-square-foot stone-veneer home, he said.
“They’re noisy,” Mr. Cantrell testified. “They bray a lot any time day or night. You never know when they’re going to cut loose.”
There was also the manure.
“It appeared that it was scraped up and piled on the fence line between his property and mine,” he said.
Mr. Shamoun denied that.
“One of my heifers had twins,” he testified. “When a heifer has twins, when that happens, the second calf will usually die because the mama doesn’t have enough milk.”
So he had to bottle-feed the calf named Lucy – four times a day.
Buddy – who is used on the ranch to scare off coyotes – came along to serve as a surrogate mother so that Lucy wouldn’t have issues when she was old enough to return to the herd. The land is large enough that the city allows certain animals not allowed elsewhere.
“As far as the poop, yeah, they’re going to poop,” Mr. Shamoun said, adding that his ranch hand cleaned it up three times a week. “It wasn’t stacked up next to my fence line.”
Mr. Shamoun sued Mr. Cantrell for assault. Mr. Cantrell countersued him for being a nuisance.
The trial lasted three hours. But as the jury went to deliberate, the neighbors settled their dispute.
Mr. Shamoun agreed to buy part of Mr. Cantrell’s property. And Mr. Cantrell agreed to withdraw his complaint with the city.
As for the donkey, he can come any time he wants.
“The donkey has visiting privileges,” Mr. Cantrell said. “I love animals.”
Buddy left the courtroom with his head held high.
“Well, you’ve had your day in court,” said his handler, Etienne Grimmett. “Let’s go get some coyotes.”
The Dallas Morning News – Michael Grabell, April 2007 – Photo: Rick Gershon