The long, cold winter that’s now extending into spring is a tragedy. But is it a crime? A prosecutor is so convinced that it is, he’s seeking the death penalty for Punxsutawney Phil, the Western Pennsylvania groundhog that incorrectly predicted an early spring this year.
The indictment is garnering as much attention as the Groundhog Day ceremony itself, in which Phil did not see his shadow this year and therefore erroneously forecasted an early end to winter. The death penalty request is also prompting other weather forecasting rodents and their handlers to see a need for possible legal protection, if indeed the criminal indictment against Phil is serious.
“Punxsutawney, you let us down,” Butler, Ohio County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser said in an interview about why he filed “State of Ohio vs. Punxsutawney Phil,” charging the groundhog with the “unclassified felony” of misrepresentation of early spring. The criminal complaint is real, and in its text calls for the death penalty.
At least one prominent New York defense attorney is taking the case seriously. Actually, Ron Kuby pointed out, very tongue in cheek, he is taking ON the case — seriously. “We’re talking about the criminal complaint. We’re talking about extraditing the groundhog from Pennsylvania to Ohio, where is the defense lawyer for the groundhog?” asked Kuby, a celebrity lawyer who came to prominence for his vigorous defenses of associates of the Gambino Crime Family, accused terror plotter Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, and Bernhard Goetz subway shooting victim Darrell Cabey, among many others.
“I’m stepping up [as the groundhog’s lawyer],” Kuby told PIX11 News, as straight-faced as he could muster. Then, one of the most celebrated and expensive attorneys in the country added that he’d take on Punxsutawney Phil’s case pro bono publico — free of charge.
However, not every criminal defendant is able to secure such high profile legal representation. One New Yorker who could become vulnerable to litigation like Phil’s, which has been spurred by cold weather fatigue, is Staten Island Chuck. He’s the groundhog mascot of the Staten Island Zoo, and he also looks for his shadow every Groundhog Day.
This year, Chuck’s forecast was consistent with Punxsutawney Phil’s, and Chuck’s defender, while an expert in the training and care of animals, is no superstar defense attorney.
“Give him a break, he’s just a groundhog,” said Laura Erbelding, laughingly. The groundhog’s trainer admitted, on the second day of spring, that the weather the Tri State area has been experiencing since Chuck’s moment of fame on February 2nd isn’t nearly as temperate as she had been hoping for.
Chuck’s excuse is that even though he and Phil made the same prediction, the Staten Island version is correct.
“We take an average of all the days, and determine whether or not it was above a certain degree temperature,” said Dr. Marc Valitutto, curator and veterinarian at the Staten Island Zoo. “For New York, the temperature actually was springtime temperature,” Valitutto said.
However, when pressed, Chuck’s veterinarian defender said, “I will admit, despite the numbers, it has been quite cold.”
In the end, however, the joke may be on the prosecutor who brought the indictment against the Western Pennsylvania groundhog prognosticator. The criminal complaint is titled “State of Ohio vs. Punxsutawney Phil.” However, in order to formally file a legal document, a full name of a defendant is typically required. Phil has a last name, which does not appear on the indictment against him, essentially voiding the legal action. The groundhog’s full name is Punxsutawney Phil Sowerby.