By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Dog walkers scored a moral victory yesterday in Calvert County District Court, where a state's attorney decided that walking two leashed poodles on a neighbor's lawn is not a crime worth prosecuting.
The case of State v. Linda May Johnson was formally placed on the court's inactive docket, meaning that a woman who was arrested, shackled and hauled off to the county jail for letting her miniature poodles, Ollie and Hershey, saunter onto a neighbor's lawn will not be prosecuted. Johnson, 47, was charged with criminal trespassing and harassment in May.
"Let's face it. This is two poodles being walked through the neighborhood," said John Erly, Johnson's attorney. "They realized it wasn't a case that was worth their time."
Assistant State's Attorney Andrew Rappaport declined to comment on the case. In court, he said the state would officially drop charges against Johnson in six months, provided she is not arrested during that time and does not attempt to contact the "victims," i.e. the neighbors who complained to police about Johnson and her dogs.
The resolution means Judge E. Gregory Wells avoids having to resolve a quintessential suburban dispute pitting dog walker against homeowner and neighbor against neighbor. Johnson's case also drew attention because her neighbors were a Maryland State Police sergeant and his wife. The state police, not local animal control officers, initiated the charges against Johnson, saying she and her dogs walked on the Barths' lawn. That constituted criminal trespassing, police said.
The neighbors also claimed that the dogs relieved themselves on the lawn, but that was not part of the criminal case. Johnson acknowledged that her dogs might have urinated on the lawn but said she never let them defecate there.
Johnson's neighbors, James and Jennifer Barth, did not respond to a phone message seeking comment. In a temporary restraining order filed against Johnson in May, Jennifer Barth wrote that Johnson would yell obscenities when she walked the dogs in the yard. The temporary order, obtained after Johnson's arrest, was dismissed when Jennifer Barth, 35, did not attend a court hearing to finalize it.
In a telephone interview, Johnson said that she is exploring the filing of a formal complaint against the state police and that she is interviewing attorneys to sue the Barths. She said she is happy that the prosecution decided to drop the charges, because a trial would have required her to travel from her new home in New Hampshire.
"Ultimately, the end result is a dismissal, which is what I wanted," said Johnson, who did not attend yesterday's hearing. "I don't think it's something that should have gone to trial and wasted taxpayer dollars."
And what about Ollie and Hershey, the two scofflaw poodles who got the whole thing started?
"They're fine," said Johnson. "They're enjoying living in a very dog-friendly neighborhood."