5-08-24 How to be an Expert Witness in Animal Cruelty & Custody Cases

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Includes a Live Web Event on 05/08/2024 at 3:00 PM (EDT)

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    • Animal Welfare Professional Member - Free!
    • Student Member - Free!
    • Industry Partner Member - Free!
    • Learning Member - Free!

Three legal experts will discuss:

  • the role of the animal expert in court proceedings, including testimony in court as well as advising and educating attorneys
  • preparation for testimony, including cross-examination
  • best practices for the forensic witness
  • war stories and current trends

This session will reduce the fear of the unknown and instill confidence in testifying by explaining what is expected of an expert witness and outline things one should and should not do on the stand.  Veterinarians often are especially reluctant to become involved with cruelty cases because of the fear of testifying in what they consider a potential adversarial situation and may feel they must make the entire case or speak in absolutes.

Who should attend: veterinarians, animal control officers, anyone who may engage in an animal cruelty or custody investigation and be asked to testify as an expert.


  • Don Cocek, APA Fellow, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys
  • Gillian Deegan, Prosecutor, Botetourt County, Virginia
  • Melinda Merck, DVM, Veterinary Forensics Consulting

This webinar is presented in cooperation with the Companion Animal Law Subcommittee of the American Bar Association and has been pre-approved for:

  • 1 Certified Animal Welfare Administrator continuing education credit
  • 1 NACA CE
  • 1 CE towards ACO CE requirements per Ch. 829 of the Texas Health and Safety Code by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS)

Don Cocek

APA Fellow

Association of Prosecuting Attorneys

Don Cocek’s legal career at the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office spanned 32 years. He was the Supervising City Attorney in charge of both the Animal Protection Unit and the Code Enforcement Unit. Don prosecuted hundreds of cases from the spcaLA, LA Animal Services, CA & US Fish & Wildlife, and other agencies involving animal cruelty, animal neglect, and violations dealing with protected species. He trained humane, animal control and police officers, and veterinarians in the investigation of and in the trial skills needed to prosecute animal related cases. Don is a fellow at the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, is a member of APA’s Animal Cruelty Advisory Committee, teaches Trial Advocacy, and has been on the faculty at APA’s National Animal Cruelty Prosecution Conferences. In May 2014, Don received the first ever APA Prosecutor of the Year Award.

Gillian Deegan


Botetourt County, Virginia

Gillian Deegan is the Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney in Botetourt County VA where she is responsible for prosecuting all of the animal cruelty and neglect cases in her county.  She worked as a Contract Attorney for the Animal Legal Defense Fund and was on the faculty of the North American Veterinary Community’s Animal CSI Certificate Program.  She sat on the Board of Directors for the International Veterinary Forensic Sciences Association and was Vice President of the Virginia Animal Fighting Task Force.  She is on the faculty of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys and is a member of their Animal Cruelty Advisory Committee. 

Jill is the Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney in Botetourt County Virginia, where she has worked as a prosecutor for 20 years. She has worked in the Virginia Criminal Justice System for over 30 years and has specialized in animal cruelty investigations and prosecutions.

Melinda Merck, DVM


Veterinary Forensics Consulting

Dr. Melinda Merck is the owner of Veterinary Forensics Consulting in Austin, Texas. Her background includes private practice and shelter medicine. She provides expert case consultations and testimony. Dr. Merck provides training nationally and internationally on the use of veterinary forensics in the investigation and prosecution of animal cruelty cases and the link to crimes against humans.

Dr. Merck is the learning facilitator of the AAHA Forensic Process for Veterinarians and course coordinator for the VetFolio Veterinary Forensics online certificate courses. She is an affiliate member of the WSAVA One Health Committee and was the founding chair of the Board of Directors for the International Veterinary Forensic Sciences Association. Dr. Merck is the editor and contributing author of the textbook, Veterinary Forensics: Animal Cruelty Investigation and a contributing author of other textbooks on the subject veterinary forensics and animal cruelty investigations.

 She has developed veterinary forensics courses for veterinary schools and frequently lectures at veterinary and law colleges. She serves on the Association of Prosecuting Attorney’s Animal Cruelty Advisory Council and the Texas Veterinary Medical Association’s Animal Welfare Committee.

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