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VLS Alum Paves Way for Farmed Animal Protection and Future Animal Lawyers

By Ashely Monti JD/MFALP'22

Will Lowrey, a white man with a goatee and a shaved head wearing a red-checked shirt Will Lowrey graduated from Vermont Law School in 2017. At graduation, he received the Learned Hand Award for ranking first in his class. Will wore many hats as a law student. He was co-chair of the VLS Animal Law Society, helping it earn international recognition as the Animal Legal Defense Fund's Best Student Chapter. As an Albert Schweitzer Fellow, he helped provide resources for guardians of dogs and cats living in substandard conditions in our community. The Vermont Supreme Court also named him Best Oralist at the Debevoise Moot Court Competition—an intramural competition the court judges every year. Overall, Will excelled during his time at VLS and continues to excel in his work to protect farmed animals.

Will is currently Legal Counsel for Animal Outlook, a nonprofit organization dedicated to “challenging the status quo of animal agribusiness through undercover investigations, legal advocacy, corporate and food system reform, and empowering everyone to choose vegan.” Animal Outlook’s work strives to increase transparency by exposing the truth behind animal agriculture.

Animal Outlook conducted an undercover investigation at Martin Farms, a Pennsylvania dairy facility. The investigation revealed many instances of abuse and cruelty to cows and calves. Animal Outlook released a showing some of these abuses, including instances where employees restrained thrashing calves to burn off their horns without providing any pain relief.

Animal Outlook approached the the Franklin County District Attorney’s Office with a report of its findings, including “a list of 327 incidents [Animal Outlook] determined constituted animal cruelty, aggravated cruelty, and neglect under PA law.” Despite this evidence, the District Attorney decided not to prosecute Martin Farms. In response, Animal Outlook petitioned a court to review the District Attorney’s decision. The court dismissed Animal Outlook’s complaint, concluding the District Attorney properly found there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Martin Farms.

Determined to seek justice, Animal Outlook appealed. Will Lowrey argued the appeal before the appellate court. This month, the appellate court reversed the lower court’s decision and ordered the lower court to direct the District Attorney to prosecute Martin Farms.

Judge Bowes explained the lower court made multiple errors of law in dismissing the complaint. Bowes observed the lower court improperly “hand-picked few of the alleged instances of abuse” in reviewing the evidence. Bowes noted the evidence Animal Outlook presented was “sufficient to make out prima facie cases of animal neglect, cruelty, and aggravated cruelty.” Bowes further noted the evidence sufficiently “establish[ed] the inapplicability of the normal agricultural operations defense,” a defense commonly provided for in state animal cruelty laws.

This appellate decision tips the scale in favor of farmed animal protection. As Will stated, “[t]he Court’s ruling sends a clear message that animals used in agriculture are worthy of protection.” Will’s resilience and determination to seek justice on behalf of farmed animals is inspiring. His zeal for protecting farmed animals is also contagious—I would know! Will continues to wear many hats, one being a valuable mentor to Animal Outlook interns. Will taught me to always challenge the status quo, ask more questions, and to explore novel avenues to advance farmed animal protection. I am forever grateful for his mentorship. Will generously makes himself available to advise VLS animal law students, and to support VLS’s new Animal Law and Policy Institute

Head over to Animal Outlook’s website to read more about the journey to this important victory.

Ashely Monti is a third-year J.D. and Master of Food and Agriculture Law and Policy student at Vermont Law School. After taking the bar exam this summer, she will clerk for the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.