John M. Stewart, President
The Florida Bar
651 E. Jefferson Street
Tallahassee, Florida 32399
Dear Mr. Stewart:
On behalf of the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, I would like to express our deep disappointment at the decision by The Florida Bar not to discipline attorney Thomas W. Cope for a disturbing incident of animal cruelty, and instead to have Mr. Cope attend a “professionalism workshop.”
In May 2019, Mr. Cope shared a video on his Facebook page of a raccoon that had found itself on Mr. Cope’s boat. At the time, the boat was approximately 20 miles offshore. In the video, Mr. Cope intentionally scares the animal off the boat into the water, and laughingly says, “So long, sucker!” The raccoon almost certainly drowned to death.
We believe that Mr. Cope’s actions were criminal, a violation of Florida Statute § 828.12. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission chose not to file charges due to a jurisdictional question, and not because the conduct was determined not to be serious.
According to The Florida Bar’s website, professionalism workshops are intended for lawyers, “whose conduct flirts with or just crosses the line into unethical conduct.” Examples given include rude comments, failure to communicate with clients, and lack of honesty. Surely, abandoning an innocent animal to suffer death by drowning is worse than a lack of communication or disrespectful comments! Attorneys in Florida have been more severely disciplined for less serious conduct. Thomas W. Cope should have been publicly reprimanded, had his license suspended or revoked, or been disbarred.
The failure to discipline Mr. Cope was a missed opportunity to demonstrate that animal cruelty is a serious offense in Florida. There is a well-documented link between animal cruelty and acts of violence against humans. Taking crimes against animals seriously makes our communities safer.
Nanci Alexander, President