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The legal dilemma of ‘The Wizard of Oz’

“I’ll get you, my pretty, and your puppy too!” One of my favorite movies is The Wizard of Oz. I recently watched the film again, and this time I focused on a scene with great legal significance.

That mean neighbor, Miss Almira Gulch, goes to Aunt Em and Uncle Henry’s house to take Dorothy’s dog Toto to the sheriff to have him destroyed. Apparently, Toto bit Gulch on the leg, which led to her going to the sheriff and getting an order to put him to sleep (Toto, not the sheriff).

Dorothy is beside herself, and she cries out, “Uncle Henry, you won’t let her, will you?”

Uncle Henry replied confidently: “Of course we won’t.”

Then Gulch suddenly whips out the “sheriff’s warrant”, authorizing her to confiscate Toto.

An argument ensues when Dorothy, predictably, refuses to hand over the prisoner. Gulch admonishes the family that they better turn Toto over immediately, “unless you want to break the law.”

Uncle Henry scanned the order for about two seconds, and he nodded stoically. He reluctantly hands Toto to Gulch, who carts him away in a basket attached to her bicycle.

After this series I did some thinking. Orders made without notice to the affected party scare me—almost as much as barking dogs.

It occurred to me that surely there must have been some provision in the laws of Kansas to set aside this order of the sheriff. I think the movie people didn’t bother with these legal implications. However, if the script had been written by a lawyer, the film might have had a sequence dealing with a special motion to right the wrong, like this:

Ozzie J: This is a motion by Dorothy Gale to set aside the order obtained without notice by respondent Almira Gulch of Twister County Sheriff Charlie Farley.

The order was obtained in terms of the provisions of the Dogs that annoy people fine Act.

Miss Gulch, the complainant, claims that Dorothy’s dog Toto used to go into her garden and harass her. Recently, when she politely asked Dorothy to remove Toto, the dog lunged at her and bit Miss Gulch on the shin.

The learned sheriff, after hearing the evidence of Miss Gulch, orders that the accused be removed from the Gale residence and an order brought before him to be laid down.

Dorothy claims in an affidavit that Toto is a really good dog. She denies that Toto ever entered the garden and pleads that the complainant startled both her and Toto when they passed, suddenly jumping in front of them with her broom and cackling.

An affidavit sworn by Emma Gale (aka Aunt Em) claims Almira Gulch feels like she owns the whole country and that she’s been wanting to tell Almira Gulch a few things for 23 years, but because she has a Christian woman was, she could not say it.

After checking all the evidence, I find that Toto did indeed take a nibble on Almira Gulch’s shin. Not only did the complainant suffer physical pain, but she was also forced to endure emotional trauma afterwards when Dorothy began to sing.

However, the question now is whether this order should have been requested with notice to Dorothy. And for Toto too.

Section 4 of the law states as follows:

    4. The sheriff may issue the order without notice if:

    a) The dog or owner cannot be readily located;

    b) There is a probability that the dog or owner may escape from the jurisdiction upon receipt of such notification;

    c) There is probability that the dog or owner may bite the sheriff after receiving such notice.

There is no doubt that the original application does not meet the first leg, so to speak, of the test. Both Dorothy and Toto could easily be found at the Gale residence talking to the farm animals.

There is some scant evidence regarding subsection “b” that applies. Almira Gulch insists that if they had received notice, both Toto and Dorothy would have been gone like a tornado. She claims that Dorothy always sang herself a strange song about being away to see the wizard.

Gulch argues that there was further good reason to believe that provision “c” was a probable contingency.

I do not agree. Uncle Henry’s testimony is that the sheriff often came to the Gale farm to store horseshoes with Uncle Henry. When they finished, Toto engaged Charlie in a vigorous game of checkers over a plate of Auntie Em’s chocolate fudge. I can’t see how Toto would have bitten the sheriff if he had attended to serve him papers. Maybe he would have licked his hand. But that’s it.

I find that the sheriff’s order should not have been issued without notice, and I set it aside. I award legal fees of the motion to Dorothy; and also for Toto.

As lawyers, I am sure the legal meaning of this order without fair notice to Dorothy et. already did not escape us. And as lawyers, we sometimes have to be the magicians to make what is right prevail. At least justice was served, as Toto jumped out of the basket on his way to his expected demise. I trust that when any of us re-watch the movie, we will see this scene with a different lens and appreciate the fair outcome.

After more than 40 years of civil litigation in the Toronto area, Marcel Strigberger has closed his law office and decided to continue to pursue his passion for humor writing and speaking. His just launched book is Boomers, Zoomers and Other Oomers: A Boomer-Biased Irreverent Perspective on Aging. For more information, visit and follow him at @MarcelsHumour on Twitter.

This column reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily the views of the ABA Journal—or the American Bar Association.

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