February 24

Mandamus and You


There’s really a pretty simple answer for many abuse cases, and it’s two-fold. First, get your state/county/city to enact realistic abuse statutes. Second, get the powers that be to enforce those laws.

Easy, right?


But it’s a lot better than playing Joe Commando and sneaking into backyards to cut chains and steal dogs. Face it, while you may look good in black skulking around the target location, you’ll probably look lousy in orange doing time for committing felonies.

Here’s the thing: it’s YOUR GOVERNMENT. You elect the folks, you pay taxes, it’s supposed to work for you. Before you decide to go tactical, try doing the boring work of making your government work.


Well, there’s a handy little legal procedures known as a writ of mandamus. It’s a court document you file just like a lawsuit that asks the court to order a government official to do his or her job.  A writ is an order from a court or administrative body that tells a government official to do something.

To require someone to do their duty, the duty must be 1) public and 2) imperative, not discretionary. You’ve also got to show that there’s no other reasonable way to remedy this defect in the justic system.

So how do you figure this all out? Well, for starters, you’ve got to get into the laws that cover a particular situation. Don’t ever trust what anyone tells you the law is. Insist on knowing the code section and looking it up yourself.

The big problem you’ll run into is that most laws were drafted by lawyers who know about writs of mandamus and they’re written to allow some wiggle room. For instance, the law might say, “Animal Control may take into custody any dog tied out on a chain.” See the problem? It’s that word “may”. That’s discretionary. It’s intended to allow the officer a lot of room to come up with a good solution, maybe educating the owner and then following up, all sorts of things short of seizing the dog. If the statute said “shall” instead of “may”, then it would be imperative, not discretionary. This is probably the biggest issue you’ll face in mandamus, the requirement that a duty be imperative.

But wait, there’s a bit of sunshine in this and I’ll cover that in the next post.


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