Elderly couple ordered to pay 12K in legal fees in dispute over Mitzy the cat

88-year-old Bea Garza suffers from depression and dementia, like many other people with similar maladies Bea draws comfort and relief from her beloved cat Mitzy. More and more research shows that people like Bea derive measurable health benefits from their pets. Many retirement homes welcome regular visits from “therapy pets,” whose warmth and friendship help to lift the spirits of the residents.
 
Bea Garza and her husband Ron have not only been forced to give up their beloved green eyed cat Mitzy, but they will now be forced by a Florida court to pay $12,000 in legal fees. The Palm Beach Post reports that the Vista Pines Association and their high powered law firm, Becker & Poliakoff have succeeded in having Mitzy evicted from the Garza’s condo. It didn’t matter that Bea had a letter from her doctor confirming her disabilities and Mitzy’s role in her treatment, because the complexities of the legal system are a barrier to those who cannot afford proper legal representation.
 
In August 2009, Vista Pines sent a letter warning the Garzas to “remove the illegal cat” in accordance with their “no pets” policy. The elderly couple simply could not bear to give up their little Mitzy, but the compassionate folks at Vista Pines had no intention of backing down.
 
That November, the association pursued arbitration through the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. The arbitrator sided with Vista Pines--not because the Garzas had no legal right to keep Mitzy, but because they were arguing their case before the wrong agency.
 
The Garzas lawyer, Richard Brown of Vero Beach, was directed to file the claim that Mitzy was an “emotional support animal” with the Fair Housing Agency. He failed to by the deadline, and the arbitrator sided with Vista Pines, court records show.
 
When the Garzas still refused to get rid of Mitzy, Vista Pines sued them in Martin County Circuit Court, citing the arbitrator’s decision.
 
The court and Vista Pines had offered to drop the matter if the Garzas evicted Mitzy by December 10, however they claim that their attorney never informed them of the deadline. Richard Brown had been successful in representing other clients facing similar circumstances, however this time he was up against Becker & Poliakoff, a powerful and well connected law firm. Late last year the Garzas had been informed that Brown would no longer serve as their attorney.
 
Last Wednesday Bea and Ron said goodbye to Mitzy and prepared to face the court, Vista Pines and their legal team alone. The court ruled in favor of Vista Pines and found the Garzas in contempt of court for failing to evict Mitzy by the deadline set by the previous court settlement, they will now be required to pay $12,000 in legal fees, despite their meager income.
 
The question of what constitutes a “service animal” is not very clear under the law, a point that Becker & Poliakoff senior partners and founders Gary and Ryan Poliakoff have acknowledged
 
In a column published last month in The Palm Beach Post, Gary and Ryan Poliakoff wrote that the definition of a “service animal” has gotten “extremely fuzzy.”
 
“It used to be that only seeing-eye dogs and other trained, specialized animals qualified for the exception…Today, even pets that are simply used for companionship may be claimed as service animals if a doctor ‘prescribes’ that pet is necessary for a persons health,” the column stated.
 
The Garzas are now deprived of their beloved cat Mitzy and are on the hook for Becker & Poliakoff’s exorbitant legal fees. Maybe the high powered and politically well connected law firm will find a way to show some compassion to the Garzas, of course I wouldn’t count on it.
 
Here’s a fun fact about the good folks at Becker & Poliakoff. The powerful Florida law firm has been very active in raising money for Democratic candidates (the democrats being the party of poor and downtrodden people like the Garzas) including Barack Obama in 2008.
 
Among the firm’s employees is 2009 Young Democrat of the Year Cedric A. McMinn, who according to the firm’s website serves as a Government Relations Consultant for their Government, Law & Lobbying Practice Group. McMinn served at the Obama/Biden campaign’s Political/Faith Deputy Director. 
 
January 11, 2011
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
88-year-old Bea Garza suffers from depression and dementia, like many other people with similar maladies Bea draws comfort and relief from her beloved cat Mitzy. More and more research shows that people like Bea derive measurable health benefits from their pets. Many retirement homes welcome regular visits from “therapy pets,” whose warmth and friendship help to lift the spirits of the residents.
 
Bea Garza and her husband Ron have not only been forced to give up their beloved green eyed cat Mitzy, but they will now be forced by a Florida court to pay $12,000 in legal fees. The Palm Beach Post reports that the Vista Pines Association and their high powered law firm, Becker & Poliakoff have succeeded in having Mitzy evicted from the Garza’s condo. It didn’t matter that Bea had a letter from her doctor confirming her disabilities and Mitzy’s role in her treatment, because the complexities of the legal system are a barrier to those who cannot afford proper legal representation.
 
In August 2009, Vista Pines sent a letter warning the Garzas to “remove the illegal cat” in accordance with their “no pets” policy. The elderly couple simply could not bear to give up their little Mitzy, but the compassionate folks at Vista Pines had no intention of backing down.
 
That November, the association pursued arbitration through the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. The arbitrator sided with Vista Pines--not because the Garzas had no legal right to keep Mitzy, but because they were arguing their case before the wrong agency.
 
The Garzas lawyer, Richard Brown of Vero Beach, was directed to file the claim that Mitzy was an “emotional support animal” with the Fair Housing Agency. He failed to by the deadline, and the arbitrator sided with Vista Pines, court records show.
 
When the Garzas still refused to get rid of Mitzy, Vista Pines sued them in Martin County Circuit Court, citing the arbitrator’s decision.
 
The court and Vista Pines had offered to drop the matter if the Garzas evicted Mitzy by December 10, however they claim that their attorney never informed them of the deadline. Richard Brown had been successful in representing other clients facing similar circumstances, however this time he was up against Becker & Poliakoff, a powerful and well connected law firm. Late last year the Garzas had been informed that Brown would no longer serve as their attorney.
 
Last Wednesday Bea and Ron said goodbye to Mitzy and prepared to face the court, Vista Pines and their legal team alone. The court ruled in favor of Vista Pines and found the Garzas in contempt of court for failing to evict Mitzy by the deadline set by the previous court settlement, they will now be required to pay $12,000 in legal fees, despite their meager income.
 
The question of what constitutes a “service animal” is not very clear under the law, a point that Becker & Poliakoff senior partners and founders Gary and Ryan Poliakoff have acknowledged
 
In a column published last month in The Palm Beach Post, Gary and Ryan Poliakoff wrote that the definition of a “service animal” has gotten “extremely fuzzy.”
 
“It used to be that only seeing-eye dogs and other trained, specialized animals qualified for the exception…Today, even pets that are simply used for companionship may be claimed as service animals if a doctor ‘prescribes’ that pet is necessary for a persons health,” the column stated.
 
The Garzas are now deprived of their beloved cat Mitzy and are on the hook for Becker & Poliakoff’s exorbitant legal fees. Maybe the high powered and politically well connected law firm will find a way to show some compassion to the Garzas, of course I wouldn’t count on it.
 
Here’s a fun fact about the good folks at Becker & Poliakoff. The powerful Florida law firm has been very active in raising money for Democratic candidates (the democrats being the party of poor and downtrodden people like the Garzas) including Barack Obama in 2008.
 
Among the firm’s employees is 2009 Young Democrat of the Year Cedric A. McMinn, who according to the firm’s website serves as a Government Relations Consultant for their Government, Law & Lobbying Practice Group. McMinn served at the Obama/Biden campaign’s Political/Faith Deputy Director. 
 
January 11, 2011
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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