(Editor's Note: The following article was submitted by attorney Daniel O'Connor.)
February 12-- A Montgomery County civil jury returned a verdict on February 8, 2018, in favor of Phillip Joyce after a three-day trial in which Joyce, represented by Vidalia attorney Daniel J. O’Connor, defended a lawsuit filed by Plaintiffs Robert and Debbie Jones claiming that Joyce had maliciously killed their bulldog.
The trial was notable in that it was the first civil jury trial presided over by newly appointed Judge Howard C. Kaufold, Jr., of the Oconee Judicial Circuit, and it was the first civil jury trial held in Montgomery County Superior Court in over a year. Further, Judge Kaufold noted that he might be the first Montgomery County resident to ever preside as a Superior Court Judge in Montgomery County.
The trial itself arose from claims by Robert and Debbie Jones that Phillip Joyce was liable to them for trespass, conversion, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and punitive damages for killing their bulldog. Joyce filed a counterclaim against the Jones, claiming that their dogs’ entry upon his land was a trespass and nuisance. Joyce admitted that he shot the Jones’ bulldog, but he was emphatic that his shooting was legally justifiable as a defense of his own dog.
According to his attorney, Daniel O’Connor, who practices in the Vidalia law firm of Bryant O’Connor LLP, this case concerned the rights of a property owner to defend his property. “When Phillip came to me after being sued and I heard his side of the story, I immediately believed that his actions were justified under the law,” O’Connor said.
“I also trusted that a Montgomery County jury would not hold a man liable for shooting a dog in defense of his own dog in his rural backyard on Petross Road. However, you never take a group of twelve jurors for granted, and thus we worked very hard to present a case that would vindicate Mr. Joyce,” O’Connor continued. “The Plaintiffs had very skilled and professional trial lawyers representing them in Christian Steinmetz and Garrett Greiner of Savannah.
“We were very happy that the jury not only denied the Plaintiffs any of the money damages that they sought, but they also found in favor of my client on his claims that the Plaintiffs had trespassed and created a nuisance by not keeping their dogs off of his property.” O’Connor added.
Another notable aspect of this trial is the fact that O’Connor is a graduate of Montgomery County High School, and it is not known whether any Montgomery County High School graduate had ever won a jury trial in Montgomery County previously. “I’m not aware of it, at least in recent history,” O’Connor said. “I’m proud to be a product of Montgomery County schools and to come back to my home county and represent the folks here is very satisfying.”
At the conclusion of the trial, Judge Kaufold noted that his first jury trial was in Montgomery County before O’Connor’s uncle, the late Judge James B. O’Connor. “It was neat that Judge Kaufold’s first jury trial was in the Montgomery County Courthouse in front of my uncle, and now my first jury trial as lead counsel was in front of Judge Kaufold, who probably had as much trial experience as anyone in this area before he went on the bench,” O’Connor said. “Jury trials, especially in civil litigation, have become relatively rare, and thus I’m happy that this opportunity happened in the way that it did.”