“WHEN GRIZZ ENTERS THE COURTROOM? CASE OVER!”
In his youth, lawyer Tony Balaski, Jr. worked for his father’s act, Balaski and His Bruins. The hit of the carnival and circus circuit, the act consisted of Tony Sr. getting his Brown bears, Boo-Boo and Smokey, to beep horns, box each other and ride unicycles. The big finale came when massive Grizzly “Grizz” came out and played “Lady of Spain” on an accordion.
Now Tony Jr.’s partnered with the bears in a law firm, “The Bruin Brothers.” “It just sort of happened,” Tony grins. “We’ve known each other since we were kids. They needed a gig and I needed some partners.”
Lawyer Balaski smiles warmly, recalling days with his Dad. “It was a hard life, but fun,” he said. “We didn’t have a lot of money so, when we were on the road, we all slept in one big cage. Dad rescued these bears when they were cubs. Some guy wanted to use them as bait. I’d never seen my Dad get so mad. He wound up with the cubs and they lived in our house. They’re almost my brothers. We shared a bedroom and we got to know all of our tricks.”
AS HUMAN AS HUMAN CAN BE
While popular, the act never made the big time, TV being averse to showing animal acts. “They always assumed that the bears were beaten or negatively conditioned to act that way,” says Tony Jr. “It was just the opposite. When we were kids, they did what I did. Ride bikes. Play ball. Box. They really sucked at basketball, though. Seriously, they became as human as human can be.”
Eventually, the gigs stopped coming. The elder Balaski tried to place the bears in a wilderness retreat for professional animals but it didn’t work out. Dad Balaski took his bruins back and lived in a secluded California area in a trailer.
His son laughs. “Can you imagine our bears in a wildlife retreat? No unicycles. No accordions. No boxing. No way. So, Dad just let them move back with him.”
After his father’s death two years ago, Tony decided to reunite with his brothers. Renting a barn-like home in Carmel, California, he opened the law-firm The Bruin Brothers.
THE FIRM ROARS TO LIFE
“When we were cubs together we developed a sign language. I could get them to do all their tricks and then some with hand and mouth signals. It’s as if we could speak. So, when I needed a boost in my firm, I thought I’d bring them in.”
Since non-human lawyers really have no rules to abide by, Tony Jr. managed to coach the bears through a really bizarre law exam. “I think the law professors just wanted them out of the room before they lost a limb or two.”
From the outset, the Bruin Brothers proved a success. “We usually defend people who are down on their luck and could easily be funneled into the prison system. When I enter the room with Grizz? Case over. The prosecuting attorneys usually stain themselves.”
Thus far, says Tony Jr., “We’ve gotten ten acquittals out of ten cases. Grizz is a deal-breaker. But Boo-Boo is my favorite co-counsel. He has a great sense of humor and can cover his eyes when prosecution witnesses testify falsely. He also can play a ‘tiny violin’ when witnesses tend to be overly melodramatic. And he can laugh. Man, can he laugh.
“Smokey is another kind of animal altogether. He rides in on a unicycle, doffs his hat towards the jury and, during testimony, beeps his horns to register complaints about the so-called ‘facts’ being presented. The thing is: bears can sense fear. And if a witness is lying, the bears react. Their hair bristles. They can barely contain a snarl. They ‘wuff,’ shake their heads ‘no’ and lean forward towards the witness. The jury notices all this.”
THE FUTURE SEEMS BEARABLE
Does Tony Jr. feel that the presence of the bears in a courtroom makes a big impression on the jury? “I sure hope so. Juries tend to react to presentations in the courtroom. What better presentation than a group of snarling bears defending your client?”
And word of mouth is spreading. “We’ve just been contacted by a motorcycle club who’ve been accused of, well, looking threatening. That’s it. Nothing more. They sooo dug the bears. The after-verdict party will be a blast.”
He’s rejiggered his Dad’s circus van and plans to take more cases in San Francisco. “It’s only a matter of time before major clients, who are getting the short end of the legal stick, contact us. The Bruin Brothers van will soon be seen all over the city.”
But, Tony Jr. insists that money will not get in the way of their goal to represent the underdog.
“I just got a letter from a guy named ‘Rudy Giuliani.’ I mean, c’mon! This goes right into the ‘to be mauled’ bin.”
“Wuff,” adds Grizz, picking up his accordion. He seems to smile as he begins to play.
“Truth, justice and the American way,” Tony Jr. beams. “Only with fur.”