FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | March 22, 2002
(San Francisco, CA, March 22, 2002) — The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), a national, lesbian-feminist non-profit law firm that advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and their families, announced that yesterday the jury returned guilty verdicts on all five counts against Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel, including a count of murder against Knoller. Knoller and Noel are the owners of the two vicious dogs who fatally mauled Diane Whipple in the hallway of her San Francisco apartment on Jan. 26, 2001.
"It's been a long 14 months and this is a very emotional moment for me," said Sharon Smith, Diane's surviving life partner, upon hearing the verdicts. "I always felt this should be the outcome and I'm incredibly grateful that it was." Prior to Diane's death, Diane and Sharon had lived together in a committed life partnership for seven years.
Last spring, NCLR filed a wrongful death action on Sharon's behalf against the dog owners. In August 2001, San Francisco Superior Court Judge A. James Robertson II issued a groundbreaking ruling in the case. Judge Robertson ruled that it is unconstitutional to preclude a surviving same-sex partner from being able to sue for wrongful death. This is the first time a court has ever held that a surviving lesbian or gay partner must be given the same right to bring a wrongful death suit as a surviving spouse. Sharon was also instrumental in the enactment of AB 25 in California last year. Among other new rights, AB 25 allows surviving same-sex partners to bring wrongful death suits.
"This verdict is a tremendous vindication of our belief that Diane's death was a direct result of the criminal irresponsibility of these dog owners," said Shannon Minter, the NCLR attorney who is representing Sharon in her civil suit against the dog owners. Sharon is also represented by Michael Cardoza, Robert Lazo, and the law firm of Heller, Ehrman, White & McAuliffe.
About the National Center for Lesbian Rights
The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national, lesbian-feminist, non-profit law firm dedicated to achieving full human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and their families. NCLR litigates impact cases, conducts public policy, sponsors free legal clinics, provides technical assistance to attorneys litigating LGBT cases nationwide, and provides free legal information and advice to thousands of individuals annually. NCLR is also dedicated to increasing public and community awareness of LGBT issues by sponsoring public workshops and events. NCLR is based in San Francisco, California. For more information, visit www.nclrights.org