by Justice William W. Bedsworth
I am not cut out for a career in the law. You have doubtless heard that remarked upon more than once in your office—especially if your office includes appellate lawyers. I admit it. If I’d had a decent high school guidance counselor, I’d be doing play by play for the Visalia Rawhide today.(1)
But it was the sixties. Guidance counseling was a lot simpler then. There weren’t nearly as many big-ticket alternatives to consider.
No one had yet made a gazillion dollars designing video games. Broadcasting and sports management were not yet recognized career paths. Acting wasn’t a viable choice if you had a face like mine, and radio was already the last big thing.
My counseling session was short. “You’re a smart kid who doesn’t want to be a doctor: You’re a lawyer. Next!”
So my profession was a consolation prize for not having the compassion, altruism, and affinity for Buicks shared by future doctors. Law was my lovely parting gift.
Having been thus deprived of my true career path in the San Joaquin Valley, I must admit to woeful ignorance about that part of the state. I know that it is the produce capital of America, it includes the homes of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, and when you do a salt-paste relief map of California in the fourth grade, you paint it green.
I know that when you drive from Berkeley to Los Angeles for a weekend break from law school, you have to choose between Highway 99(2) and Interstate 5.(3) And I know that either way, you have to reduce speed near Chowchilla because three-quarters of the free world’s supply of California Highway Patrol officers employ their cloaking devices there.(4)
Beyond that, I am pretty much clueless. I’ve driven through The Valley(5) scores of times, but you don’t retain much at 65 miles per hour.(6) I’m pretty sure I know as much about Hong Kong and Shanghai as I do about Bakersfield and Fresno.
So imagine my amazement when I read this headline: “Lamont Man Stabbed to Death by Bird.”
My God, I didn’t even know there was a place called Lamont.
Much less that they harbored homicidal birds.
But there is. In Kern County.(7)
Imagine! All those trips through The Valley and nobody ever warned me I should be arming myself.
It gets hot in the valley. I sometimes had the windows rolled down. I could have been killed.
I mean, this wasn’t just an attack. This was a STABBING! Alfred Hitchcock in his worst nightmares (and best movies) never contemplated ARMED homicidal birds.
But according to the Bakersfield Californian, “A 35-year-old Lamont man died Sunday after being stabbed in the leg by a sharp blade that was attached to a fighting bird, authorities said.”
I was at first reassured by the fact the paper was in touch with “authorities,” who could presumably explain this situation, since I had not previously been aware ANY birds carried knives. But it turned out the “authorities” in question were not aviary authorities from the Audubon Society or the American Birding Association. They were cops.
That’s when the light began to dawn. These were cockfighting birds. They were roosters who were packing.
Cockfighting maintains its popularity in California, despite the fact we’ve criminalized cockfighting, raising gamecocks, training gamecocks, possessing cockfighting paraphernalia, and even being a spectator at a cockfight.(8) Were it not for the 9th Circuit’s decision in United States v. Alvarez (2011) __F.3d__, I’m sure we would make it illegal to lie about cockfights.
The attraction is a complete mystery to me. I would not expend the energy necessary to turn on my television to watch one of these spectacles (although I would lift it up and throw it out a window if one came on), and I am simply mystified by the fact there are people who would risk incarceration for it.
So the addition of death to the list of detrimental possible outcomes attributable to attendance at one of these fiascos would seem to me to guarantee there would be very few spectators for this activity who had not already been institutionalized.
But that is, sadly, not the case. Apparently you can combine anything with the attraction of illegal gambling and people will flock to it.(9)
According to the Kern County Sheriff’s Department, they received a tip about a cockfight and when they arrived, they found one Jose Luis Ochoa bleeding out in a field near Highway 99. He’d been stabbed in the leg by a sharp blade attached to the leg of one of the roosters.
Jose was not an innocent bystander. It’s not like he went to a WWE match and one of the wrestlers attacked him with a chair.
Jose was convicted of owning or training an animal for fighting last year. Cost him $370 plus the penalty assessment. This time the penalty assessment was waived.
But at least Jose had some idea what he was in for. Unlike the protagonist in the “Fox Shoots Man” case reported by Reuters.
Yeah, another one. Really, I don’t go looking for these things. They seem to leap off the page at me—much like Jose’s rooster.
According to Reuters, “A wounded fox shot its would-be killer in Belarus by pulling the trigger on the hunter’s gun as the pair scuffled after the man tried to finish the animal off with the butt of the rifle. . . .”
I tell you, folks, the world is getting weirder every day.
And it gets worse. Again, according to Reuters, “The unnamed hunter, who had approached the fox after wounding it from a distance, was in hospital with a leg wound, while the fox made its escape, media said, citing prosecutors from the Grodno region.”
Prosecutors? Really? They called in prosecutors?
According to the story, “fox-hunting is popular in this picturesque farming region of northwestern Belarus . . . ,” so there’s no indication the hunter was in any kind of legal trouble for wounding the fox. I can only conclude they brought in prosecutors in case they caught the fox.
People v. Homicidal J. Fox. Now THAT is a case I’d like to defend. Obviously, the fox will claim self-defense. And given the relative dearth of reports of foxes shooting humans without provocation in the past . . . oh . . . 3,000 years, I think the smart money’s on the fox in this one.
But what I’d really like to do is cover the trial. I took two years of Russian in college. Maybe I should contact Court TV and see if they need a broadcast correspondent in Belarus. Maybe this is finally my chance to get into broadcasting.
It ain’t the Visalia Rawhide, but it’s a start.
(1) I used to say I’d be doing it for the Lodi Crushers, but minor league baseball franchises are highly susceptible to economic downturn. The Crushers, alas, have gone the way of the great auk, replaced by the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. And surely no one in southern California would hire me. Not if they’d talked to my probation officer.
(2) Slower, but less closely patrolled.
(3) A route that illustrates the fact the abbreviation FWY means “Fast Woad, Yippee.”
(4) This concludes the CLE portion of today’s program.
(5) Oh yeah, that reminds me of another thing I know. Fresno State’s red football helmets include a big green “V” in homage to the San Joaquin Valley. Now I’m pretty sure I’m done.
(6) “Really, Officer? I was THAT much over the speed limit? I had no idea! I thought sure I was right around 65.”
(7) Okay, we’ll reopen the CLE presentation.
(8) Although part of the problem in this state is that it’s only a misdemeanor (unless you have a prior), whereas neighboring states have made it a felony. So California attracts cockfights pretty much the way the bottom of a funnel attracts liquids.
(9) So to speak.
William W. Bedsworth is an Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal. He writes this column to get it out of his system. He can be contacted at email@example.com.