“Where’s the cameraman?” Stacey Sawyer asked with a laugh as she walked into the kitchen of her friend Cathy Davis in Gorham last Wednesday.
Sawyer, who was one of several neighbors who joined Davis at her home to watch the airing of the Judge Judy Show, was joking about what a spectacle her friend’s appearance on the show had become.
She watched as Judge Judy awarded Davis $1,500 for the value of her pet chicken, Princess, and the “pain and suffering” of watching her die. The chicken cost Davis $1.60 as a week old chick.
The story unfolded last fall when Davis of Jackie’s Way alleged that two dogs owned by Phillip Csoros of nearby Black Brook Road attacked Princess. The case wound up in the TV court and the story was widely published and broadcast on radio.
Judge Judy Sheindlin, a retired real-life judge from New York, where she had a tough but fair reputation, heard the case. During the TV trial, Csoros got a taste of Sheindlin’s sharp tongue that is a part of her TV persona.
“You’re a dumb man,” she said to him.
In an interview, Csoros said he wasn’t fazed by the comment. He said Sheindlin is an actress and has a job to do.
“I’ve been called worse by better,” he said.
The death of Princess
Csoros said the chicken case took a strange path to the national TV courtroom. The chicken incident hatched on an otherwise typical autumn day at the Davis home, which is located in a state wildlife preserve.
Cathy Davis and her 13-year old daughter, Dani, along with Cathy’s father, Gordon Trynor, were inside the home watching the chickens and deer “hang out together” in the Davis yard on Oct. 20.
Davis said last week that two dogs, which she said weighed about 75 pounds each, attacked one of her five, 4-pound chickens, picked it up and shook it. Davis said Princess was so scared that it layed an egg without a shell.
“It was all over by the time we got out there,” said Davis. “I didn’t sleep for days.”
Cathy’s husband, Glen, was working and was not at home at the time of the incident. “They had to stand there and watch the dogs tear the chicken apart,” Glen Davis said last week.
Cathy said her dad had to shoot Princess, a Plymouth Rock chicken, to put it out of its misery after the attack. Cathy Davis said Csoros came to her yard after hearing her scream.
Csoros, a former Air Force pilot who now flies for an airline, said last week that on the day of the incident he was in his backyard, which is separated from the Davis property by pine trees. When he went into the garage for a tool, he said the dogs must have spotted the deer and pursued them into the Davis yard. He said they came right back and weren’t in the Davis yard for more than “a minute tops.”
He said there was no blood and no damage to the chicken. Csoros said there were no feathers strewn about. “I don’t think my dogs bit or shook the chicken,” he said last week.
Csoros described his dogs as male Labrador mixes that have been fixed. The black dog, Mason, is 9 years old, and the brown one, Deasy, is 10 years old. He said if the dogs were humans, they would be on Social Security.
“These dogs are in retirement,” he said. “They are the most gentle dogs.”
He does believe that Mason and Deasy were in the Davis yard, and he said they had their tails down when they returned to his yard. He said the dogs knew they had been bad when they left his property.
But he said he has hunted with them and they wouldn’t pick up a game bird. “I’m very confident that my dogs didn’t do it,” he said.
He said the chicken was sitting on an egg in the grass when Trynor, a retired businessman, shot it twice in the neck. Csoros said the chicken was still alive after the first shot.
“He cocked the rifle and shot the chicken the second time, and the chicken was dead,” Csoros said. “I’m sorry her father felt the need to kill her pet.”
At Gorham Public Safety, Julie Poland and Trixi Moran were the dispatchers when the chicken complaint was telephoned in at 4:41 p.m. They had no idea the complaint would wind up on national television.
“It was just a complaint,” Moran said.
Moran said Gorham Police Officer David Kearns was on duty that afternoon but passed the case over to Animal Control Officer Will Southworth, who arrived soon after the incident. “Her daughter was crying her eyes out. It was a sad situation,” Southworth said about Dani, a Gorham Middle School student.
Southworth took pictures of the dead chicken and examined it. He said rigor mortis had set in but the neck was still flexible and he determined that it had a broken neck.
He wrote Csoros a summons. But Csoros pled not guilty in court in Portland and was given a trial date.
Cathy Davis also sought $4,500 in damages against Csoros. But Csoros took the advice of his lawyer, who recommended he contact the Judge Judy program.
The Judge Judy Show
After the program agreed to air the case on TV, Davis and Csoros both agreed to accept a decision from Judge Judy. The local cases were dropped.
Cathy Davis, her daughter and her father, Gordon Trynor, all testified in the TV trial, as did Csoros. Davis said it was treated like a real courtroom.
Until two weeks before the taping of the show, Csoros had never seen the Judge Judy Show. It was tapped on Jan. 19 in studios at KTLA on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. He said the set had camera crews and a sound team, but the set looked similar to a real courtroom.
“It had that plastic banana kind of feel,” he said.
Davis and her family didn’t see or talk with Csoros before the show, and there was no rehearsal. And after the verdict, they were whisked out of the studio with no contact. Csoros said he didn’t get to meet Judge Judy but did meet the show’s producers.
Trynor said in the hearing that after the chicken was attacked he shot the chicken. “It was suffering so I shot it,” he said.
Csoros said he didn’t think his dogs were responsible because Davis’ father shot it.
Judge Judy then asked Csoros why he thought he did it. “Do you think he’s some sort of sadist?” Judge Judy asked.
“I don’t think he’s trained in veterinary medicine,” Csoros said.
In the verdict, Judge Judy reduced the sum Cathy Davis sought from $4,500 to $1,500, which was paid by the TV program. Csoros said he felt Davis would have gotten only about $100, plus the replacement cost of the chicken, in a Maine small claims court.
“She definitely came out better,” he said.
Neighbors at the Davis home reacted with total surprise at Judge Judy’s decision. Davis and Csoros couldn’t reveal the outcome.
Those who viewed the program at the Davis home included Laurie Davis of Portland, who is the sister of Glen Davis, and Holly Ousback of Gorham, in addition to Sawyer and her son, Eric. Sawyer also had reacted with surprise when she and her family first heard that Davis was going to be on Judge Judy.
“We thought it was a joke,” Sawyer said.
Davis, her daughter, Dani, and Trynor along with Csoros all received hotel accommodations and airfare courtesy of the Judge Judy show. But on the way home, the Davis group got cooped up overnight in Detroit because of a blizzard and had to pay a hotel bill there.
Dani and her grandfather, Gordon Trynor, got $75 in spending money. Cathy Davis got $150, and Csoros got $175. Each enjoyed taking in the Hollywood sights while they were in Los Angeles for three days.
After the chicken case made the media, the Davis home phone rang incessantly with radio stations around New England calling. One station dedicated an A.M. show to Princess the dead chicken and some radio personalities agreed to abstain from eating chicken for the day in the memory of Princess.
“It’s been an experience,” Glen Davis said.
Csoros has an unlisted phone number and was out of town on the day the show aired locally over WGME-TV so he didn’t get the public feedback. He didn’t heard from fellow pilots, either.
“I don’t think many pilots watch the show,” he said.
Davis didn’t think last week that she would replace Princess the dead chicken who was No. 2 in the flock pecking order. Her four chickens are laying one or two eggs a day now collectively. She also didn’t know what plans she had for the money she was awarded.