Nico Dauphine: A Different Kind of Community Service

The H. Carl Moultrie Courthouse, where the Superior Court of the District of Columbia is located. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and AgnosticPreachersKid.

More than seven months after she was charged with attempted animal cruelty—and six weeks after her eventual conviction—former Smithsonian researcher Nico Dauphine was sentenced today to a $100 fine and 120 hours of community service. (The maximum penalty for attempted animal cruelty, a misdemeanor in Washington, DC, is a $1,000 fine and 180 days in jail.)

The case began when one of Dauphine’s neighbors found rat poison in the cat food she puts out for the neighborhood cats. The Washington Humane Society was then called in to investigate. Surveillance video, combined with what Senior Judge Truman A. Morrison III described as Dauphine’s “inability and unwillingness to own up to her own professional writings” on the stand, proved sufficient for a guilty verdict—prompting Dauphine’s immediate resignation.

Court records indicate that Dauphine will be subject to 12 months of supervised probation (unsupervised if her community service is completed early).

Unlike Dauphine’s previous “community service”—her term for the roundup of cats in and around her Athens, GA, home—she is, while on probation, prohibited from “employment or community service with intentional or purposeful contact with cats.”

CNN reports that Superior Court Judge A. Truman Morrison III “said he had received a number of letters from people who know Dauphine.”

“He said such letters usually try to make a case that the verdict was in error, but in this case, the judge said, no one quarreled with the guilty verdict… Morrison said it was clear from letters written by Dauphine’s colleagues that ‘her career, if not over, it’s in grave jeopardy.’ The judge said that was already partial punishment for her actions.”

Dauphine, apparently, had little to say. According to the CNN story, “she said she was ‘very ashamed’ to have disappointed her supporters and knew that she faced an ‘enormous task ahead’ to regain their esteem. She declined to answer questions from reporters after her court hearing.”

Lisa LaFontaine, president and CEO of the Washington Humane Society, who attended today’s hearing, told reporters, “We are delighted that justice was served today.”

While I commend WHS for their tenacity throughout this investigation, I don’t see that justice was served in this case at all. Worse, Dauphine’s slap on the wrist sends a clear message to others who would take matters into their own hands, and to the general public: “that,” as Becky Robinson, co-founder and president of Alley Cat Allies, put it in a May 26 news release, “the lives of cats have no value.”