KC complaint against Podengo breeder upheld by committee
BREEDER and exhibitor Betty Judge (Plushcourt) has been warned, censured and fined £1,000 for producing false paperwork relating to four Portuguese Podengos.
The complaint against Mrs Judge, who breeds Podengos, Border Terriers and Petits Bassets Griffons Vendéens, was that she had behaved discreditably or prejudicially to the interests of the canine world in that on or around November 3, 2008, in support of her claim to maintain endorsements under regulation B12 in respect of four dogs sold to Janet and John Tiranti (Garthfield), she submitted four contracts to the KC and represented to the KC that Mrs Tiranti had signed the contracts knowing that that representation was false, or being reckless as to its truth, or failing to show due care and consideration as to its truth.
The Podengos invoved were Plushcourt Titere of Garthfield (Smarty) who was sold for £450, P Pantufa of G (Ella) for £1,000, P Passaro of G (Bodie) for £900, and P Broche of G (Lola) for £900.
In March this year, Mrs Judge was ordered to pay damages and costs after Mr and Mrs Tiranti took civil action against her. Shortly before the county court hearing all parties reached agreement when Mrs Judge conceded that the four contracts were not signed by Mrs Tiranti or on her behalf.
The court ordered Mrs Judge to take steps to lift the restrictions on the four dogs and pay the Tirantis £5,000 in damages, and an interim payment of indemnity costs of £15,000 by April 14.
The Disciplinary Sub-Committee comprised chairman Wilson Young, Steve Croxford, Roy Page and Ian Kettle. Presenting the KC’s case was barrister Robert Dowling, and counsel for Mrs Judge was Frank Abbott.
Mr Dowling said that the KC had become involved when the Tirantis wrote saying that the endorsements placed on the four puppies had not been lifted by Mrs Judge, as had been promised verbally by her. In addition to the usual stipulations, these endorsements prevented the Tirantis from registering progeny and from exporting the puppy.
Mrs Tiranti told the KC that Mrs Judge had promised to lift the endorsements but would not now do so.
“We are fellow officers of the Portuguese Podengo Club of GB,” the Tirantis wrote, “and we accepted what she told us and expected her to be true to her word… As she is now an accredited breeder, as are we, her integrity is surely in doubt.”
The KC wrote to Mrs Judge at the end of 2008 and she replied, enclosing what she said were ‘scanned copies’ of the contracts, bearing the endorsements, which appeared to all be signed by Mrs Tiranti. The KC then replied to the Tirantis saying the signed contracts had been seen and it could help no further.
The Tirantis wrote again saying Mrs Tiranti had no recollection of signing the documents and had not seen them before. In any case, they said, they would never have agreed to such terms.
The KC contacted Mrs Judge to ask her about the original documents and she replied saying they were in her possession and that Mrs Tiranti had been given a copy of all of them.
The Tirantis called into question the signatures purporting to be Mrs Tiranti’s, and eventually employed a handwriting expert to analyse them. They also instructed solicitors to take action against Mrs Judge.
The handwriting expert said he believed that the signatures on two agreements between Mrs Judge and the Tirantis were written by Mrs Tiranti and that it was unlikely that they had been copied, but alleged that the signatures on the other two had not been independently signed but had been transposed from another agreement.
In August 2009 as questions continued to be asked, Mrs Judge wrote again to the KC saying that health issues had arisen in the four dogs which prevented her lifting the restrictions “to protect the health, wellbeing and future of the breed.
“How could anyone wish to breed from dogs they know are carriers of epilepsy and femoral head necrosis?” she asked.
However, despite more than one request, Mrs Judge failed to produce any veterinary documents supporting claims of ill health in the dogs sold to the Tirantis.
The county court case was scheduled and settled by the parties involved before the hearing could take place, and afterwards the Tirantis’ solicitor asked the KC to discipline Mrs Judge – who at that time was a KC member – and, if Mrs Judge had not done so, remove the endorsements.
In another letter to the KC, Mrs Judge’s solicitor pointed out that the court had not given a judgment on the matter and that ‘no findings of fact’ had been made.
“The question which no doubt would have concerned the court would be as to how the four copy contracts came to have on them a signature of Mrs Tiranti taken from another, but genuine, contract,” the letter said. “The court never dealt with the matter because the parties agreed terms.”
The question facing the KC Disciplinary Sub-committee was which documents had been genuinely signed by Mrs Tiranti in the knowledge that there were endorsements attached, and if, as they said, they had not signed them all how Mrs Judge had copies of them bearing Mrs Tiranti’s signature.
In addition to this, the Tirantis argued, Mrs Judge had promised to lift the endorsements which were mentioned on two of the contracts, but had not done so.
This, of course, was remedied by the KC after the County Court judgment in March.
Mrs Judge – who said the case had forced her into bankruptcy – wrote to the KC in May saying she believed that the contracts had been genuine, but had had to back down after the handwriting expert’s report.
She firmly denied any wrongdoing, and said she had only settled out of court to avoid any publicity regarding the breed’s health issues. She said the original contracts were always signed by people buying her puppies and that the Tirantis would then be given a copy.
When the KC asked to see the contracts she said she was unable to find the originals because her paperwork was disorganised, but maintained they were in her office somewhere. She said she was beginning to wonder if she had given them to the Tirantis by mistake.
Mrs Judge then told the KC that she had asked Mrs Tiranti to give her photocopies of all the signed contracts because she was unable to find them. And she said that when the pair went to Leeds ch show, Mrs Tiranti handed her an envelope with the contracts in which she put in her office unopened.
These were the documents she sent to the KC. Shortly afterwards, Mrs Judge said, she found two partly-typed and partly handwritten contracts for Smarty and Lola. She denied forging signatures on any of the documents.
Mr and Mrs Tiranti refuted completely Mrs Judge’s version of events. Mrs Tiranti told the hearing on Friday that Mrs Judge had told her she was putting endorsements on the contracts because she feared that unscrupulous people would breed from her dogs and make a lot of money.
“She said to me not to worry because we were friends and she would lift the restrictions,” Mrs Tiranti said. “We would never have bought a dog with endorsements because there would have been no point in having them, they would just have been pets.”
Mrs Tiranti said she had signed the contract for at least one of the dogs but not for two and had had no copies given to her. She denied giving Mrs Judge an envelope with copies of the contracts in. She also refuted, when it was suggested, that there was ‘a certain amount of vindictiveness’ involved in her case against Mrs Judge. “No,” Mrs Tiranti replied. “If Mrs Judge had lifted the restrictions and not forced us to take her to court and go through those three years there would have been nothing to get upset about.”
She said that the signatures on two of the contracts were identical, and that an individual signature could not have been so similar. She suggested that a genuine signature had been copied onto the document in some way.
“There were no contracts, no signatures, no copies, nothing,” she told the panel.
Questioned by Mr Abbott she said Mrs Judge had not mentioned any health problems in any of the dogs involved.
Mr Tiranti told the hearing that he and his wife never saw the alleged copies of the four contracts, and that when they received them from the KC – who had received them from Mrs Judge – it was the first time they had done so.
It was the turn of Mrs Judge to give evidence and she said that she began endorsing her contracts not for breeding or export in January 2007. She said Mrs Tiranti signed Smarty’s contract and was given a copy and that she gave her a copy of Lola’s too, although it did not have the dog’s name on. No requests were made for the restrictions to be removed, she claimed.
She said that a health problem had arisen in the breed and in one of the dog’s antecedents, and she did not want any health issues to be perpetuated.
She said she settled the court case because of the stress being suffered by her and her husband.
Cross-examined by Mr Dowling, Mrs Judge admitted that within the space of a few months, six documents relating to four separate sales of the Podengos had gone missing from her filing system.
Mr Dowling asked her why she had not explained to the KC what was happening instead of continuing to say she was looking for the documents it was asking for. Mrs Judge replied that she had still believed she would find them at some point, but admitted eventually that she probably should have done.
One of the reasons, she said, was because her former legal advisers had told her she would not have been believed.
“Is it the truth that you transposed the signatures from the handwritten documents on to those four copies?” asked Mr Dowling. “Definitely not,” Mrs Judge said. “The truth is,” Mr Dowling said, “that Mrs Tiranti may have signed one or both part-typed and part hand-written documents but she didn’t sign all four documents and you knew that.”
“No,” Mrs Judge said.
Summing up, Mr Dowling told the panel it would have to decide whether Mrs Judge knew the documents she submitted to the KC were false, was reckless as to the truth, or whether she showed due care and attention as to whether they were true.
At no stage had Mrs Tiranti signed the four pieces of paper, he said, and there was a clear dispute of fact as to how it was the signatures had come to appear on them, with each side blaming the other for putting the signatures on the documents.
Mrs Tiranti had to go through two and a half years of asking the KC to lift the endorsements and go through considerable legal expense, Mr Dowling said.
He suggested that the way in which Mrs Judge had communicated with the KC might cause the disciplinary panel concern ‘given that we know her filing system had broken down at that point’.
In his summation Mr Abbott said Mrs Judge had never wavered from saying she believed there were documents which were in order and properly signed. She had to accept the findings of the handwriting expert but was maintaining she had done nothing wrong.
“If Mrs Judge is right in saying she gives her puppy buyers copies of the contracts, the Tirantis knew there were endorsements,” he said.
The barrister told the panel that Mrs Judge’s concern about the development of the breed and her protection of it at all costs may have been behind what had happened to her.
“There is no suggestion she has ever done anything reprehensible in the past,” he said. “This was a moment of irresponsibility which she will regret for the rest of her life.
“She is now declared bankrupt. If she is banned from breeding and registering it is going to put an end of her career. She has no income except pensions for herself and her husband.”
Mr Abbot explained that Mrs Judge’s husband, Stuart, had been unwell for some time and that there had been other personal problems.
“My client has some financial support from her husband’s savings and from her son in Singapore,” he said. “She suffers from ill health, is arthritic and has difficulty walking. Breeding dogs is her life and her way of earning a living. She would be devastated if she was prevented from doing that, effectively by what was a moment of madness, a one-off instance in an otherwise blameless career.
“She has already had to pay out £5,000 in damages to the Tirantis. That ought really to be enough. Hopefully the Tirantis aren’t so vindictive that they would want to destroy my client.”
Mr Abbott said Mrs Judge was not in a position to be able to pay costs.
“If you fine her, the money would have to come from somewhere else,” he said. “It’s punishment enough to have the stigma attached to her. She should be able to come back into the fold as quickly as possible.”
The KC told DOG WORLD that in 2010 Mrs Judge registered 60 Podengo, Border Terrier and PBGV puppies from 15 litters, and 64 from 21 litters in 2011.
The sub-committee retired to consider the evidence and returned to uphold the KC’s complaint against Mrs Judge. It warned her as to her future conduct A42j(1); censured her A42j(2); and fined her £1,000 A42j(3). Mr Young said the penalties would have been ‘significantly greater’ had it not been for the mitigating circumstances presented by Mr Abbott.
“It is clear and appears not to be in issue that the four contractual documents submitted to the KC were not signed by Mrs Tiranti,” he said, reading the sub-committee’s statement. “We have noted the several missed opportunities by Mrs Judge to explain the circumstances behind the submission of the actual documents and that in any event that explanation ultimately given is convoluted and to the sub-committee is an implausible explanation and not something we are able to accept.
“We find the evidence given by Mr and Mrs Tiranti credible.
“We do not accept that the submission of the documents by Mrs Judge was done recklessly or without due care or consideration but are persuaded on the balance of probabilities that it is more likely than not that it was done knowingly and upholds the complaint on that basis.
“The Committee notes the submissions made in mitigation and that the motivation on the part of Mrs Judge was not for gain but that this was possibly as described a moment of madness.
“The KC is absolutely reliant on and must trust the integrity of information supplied to it and therefore it is an extremely serious matter if that trust is undermined in anyway. The penalties have been imposed at this level, but it should be understood that without the mitigating circumstances presented the penalty would have been very significantly greater.”