LAW REVIEW: Dog murder case intrigue continues |

LAW REVIEW: Dog murder case intrigue continues

San Francisco dog owners Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel are in the news again. Actually they never left the news.

Knoller was indicted recently for second degree murder and manslaughter in the January 26 death of Diane Whipple, and is being held on $2 million bail. She’s the one who lost control of the dog Bane. Noel is charged with manslaughter, on $1 million bail. Both are also charged with failing to control a dangerous animal. Both are currently in the San Francisco jail.

The two are representing each other, which validates the old maxim “he who represents himself has a fool for a client.”

At the same time they are representing “Cornfed” Schneider, their son by adoption – serving a life sentence. He’s really quite lovable – once you get to know him. At least as friendly as the two dogs.

Even though there appears to be ample evidence that Noel and Knoller had reason to believe the dogs were dangerous, and even recognizing that the two deserve little sympathy, especially since they have publicly shown no sympathy and have even implied that Diane Whipple somehow contributed to her own death, the murder two charge is overcharging.

In the meantime, in a novel move, Diane Whipple’s partner, Sharon Smith, has filed a wrongful death suit. California courts have uniformly held that unmarried heterosexual partners cannot make wrongful death claims, and this case goes even further, involving a same-sex couple. Sharon Smith’s case will probably be thrown out of court, although Diane Whipple’s mother’s case for civil damages will not. But her damages are minimal under California law.

Wasting no opportunities, Assemblyperson Carol Midgen of San Francisco has sponsored a bill that would grant several spousal rights to domestic partners, including the right to bring a wrongful death suit. The proposal would confer other marriage-like privileges on registered domestic partners, including the right to make medical decisions for a partner, file a disability claim and participate fully in conservatorship proceedings. The bill is backed by many of the major Democratic leaders in Sacramento.

On a personal level, I received a moving e-mail from the mother of a Truckee graduate and member of Diane Whipple’s St. Mary’s championship lacrosse team. Diane Whipple was her mentor and best friend and her death has left a void in the young Truckee woman’s life.

Sometimes in our haste to condemn and write sensationalist stories, the personal loss suffered by the victims of crimes is overlooked.

As I learned, Diane Whipple was a champion – in every sense of the word.

Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter/Simon, with offices in Truckee and Reno. He may be reached at or at the firm’s web site

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