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The D’Amato Law Firm has a long history of helping anyone in need. In 2000 this included Monroe the Margate cat.

By   JEREMY OLSHAN Staff Writer, (609) 272-7275
Published: August 23, 2000

Every dog has his day. Every cat has his defense attorney.

O.J. Simpson had Johnnie Cochran. Claus von Bulow had Alan Dershowitz. Monroe, the Margate cat accused of biting a woman and ruining her black silk slacks, has Paul D’Amato. D’Amato, a Linwood-based attorney, said he decided to take his first feline client because the gray stray had been unjustly condemned without due process. “Everybody, including cats, deserves to be protected from specious claims,” he said. “I have met with my client, and he will take nothing less than an apology.”

Monroe had been condemned by Jerry Berk, of Ventnor, who demanded that the cat be put to sleep so that he could put to rest fears that his wife, Joan, had contracted rabies in the attack. Berk explained that he wanted to spare his wife the unpleasant rabies shots unless absolutely necessary.

“This is just bewildering,” he said. “People seem to care more about this cat than my wife.”

The cat bites, which occurred last Wednesday night in front of Steve & Cookie’s Restaurant in Margate, sent Joan Berk to the hospital, and her husband, Jerry, into high gear. Berk filed a complaint with the Margate City Police Department, the Atlantic County Department of Health and with the office of Ventnor veterinarian Dr. Leonard Walk.

Hearing of these complaints, Cookie Till, the owner of Steve & Cookie’s, caught Monroe and brought him to Dr. Walk’s office. Walk called the Berks and explained that there were no signs the cat had rabies. When Jerry Berk insisted, going as far as to threaten legal action, Walk said there was little he could do, and the cat would probably have to be euthanized.

Minutes before Monroe’s last meow, the condemned cat was given a reprieve. The call did not come from the governor, but from Paul D’Amato, who explained that the cat was his client and could not be put to sleep.

D’Amato, who is also the part-time mayor of Linwood, normally deals in cases involving accidents and injuries. He admitted that this was his first capital case.

“I told Monroe to rest assured that I am qualified for the job,” he said. “I began my career practicing criminal law.”

As Monroe cannot afford D’Amato’s usual rates – $300 an hour – D’Amato said he has taken the case pro bono. While he would not elaborate on his planned defense, D’Amato said Monroe has no shortage of character witnesses.

After his story appeared in The Press last Saturday, the paper, the restaurant, and Walk’s office were besieged with offers to adopt the cat.

Named for an Avenue in his hometown, Monroe is said to be sweet, pretty and harmless.

“We love Monroe,” said Margate resident Chris Gilmore. “Customers at the restaurant often send hors d’oeuvres out to her.”

Monroe is not the first animal to hire a high-priced defense attorney. In 15th century France, animals could be accused of crimes and tried as humans. This intermarriage of Court TV and Animal Planet is chronicled in the 1993 British film “The Advocate,” which tells the story of a pig on trial for murder, and the man who has to defend him.

Sometimes, even bizarre history repeats itself.

“D’Amato is a very well-known lawyer,” Berk said. “I didn’t want to have to start with attorneys and suing, but now I may have to.”

Copyright (c) 2000 The Press of Atlantic City