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SNAKE CASE HEADS FOR `PEOPLE'S COURT'; EX-NYC MAYOR KOCH TO PRESIDE.

Byline: Amy Collins Daily News Staff Writer

The strange case of the Chihuahua-eating boa constrictor is going to court - ``The People's Court.''

The owners of Alissss, the 7-1/2-foot snake, and Babette, the 2-pound dog, will face off Thursday in the courtroom of former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, who replaces the distinguished Judge Wapner in determining the fates of feuds small and smaller.

In the case of ``I Can't Believe She Ate the Whole Thing,'' Koch will deal justice over dueling $5,000 small-claims suits between Flossie ``Jackie'' Torgerson, the dog owner, and Angus Johnson, the snake owner.

``I've ruled on cases involving dogs injuring other dogs, and dogs killing cats, but I've never had one involving a snake and a dog. So it'll be new to me,'' Koch said Tuesday in a telephone interview.

The newly reformulated ``People's Court'' will premiere Sept. 8 on KCAL-TV (Channel 9), but no date has been set for broadcast of the Chihuahua-vs.-boa brouhaha.

Koch's qualifications for handling the case: He served as an arbitrator in Small Claims Court shortly after becoming an attorney in 1949, and he used to own a dog.

``But I believe animals are not human beings,'' he said, recalling his own canine. ``It was a wonderful dog, but I never thought of it as a child.''

Koch said he plans to make his ruling on the case based on California and Los Angeles laws - not necessarily whether Babette's death was fair.

``The People's Court'' is to fly Johnson and Torgerson to New York today and will pay the damages for the loser, with the understanding that no future litigation will be filed. Koch's decision will be ``final, binding legal arbitration,'' said Beth Geddes, the show's producer. ``This is it.''

Torgerson is suing for the value of the dog, emotional distress and for funds to help her circulate a petition to outlaw pet snakes in Los Angeles neighborhoods, a cause she has dubbed ``Babette's Law.''

The dispute arises from Babette's death during a heat wave earlier this month.

Alissss had escaped from her home and made her way down the street to relax on Torgerson's patio outside the kitchen doggie-door. On the morning of Aug. 9, Babette leaped through the door and into the clutches of Alissss, whose feeding cycle was accelerated by the 100-plus-degree temperatures.

The 74-year-old Torgerson was stunned as she watched the boa suffocate the dog, but took pictures as proof of the attack. In the media frenzy that followed, she accused Johnson of calling her and instead of offering sympathy, only demanding that he get his snake back.

But Johnson has said he was sincere in his apology. His attorney, Jeffrey Ward of Bosco, Blau and Ward of Century City, filed the small-claims countersuit for defamation of character. Ward is handling the case for free.

``I know I'm going to lose,'' said Johnson, an aspiring musician who had planned to hold a show to raise money to replace the rare, long-haired Chihuahua, valued at $1,500. But he said he's willing to go on the show to help make up for his snake's actions.

Johnson also is working to regain Alissss, who has been caged at the city's animal shelter in Chatsworth since the attack. He received a notice from the city Monday saying that if he can't find a home for her outside Los Angeles by Aug. 30, Alissss will be ``disposed of.'' He said an animal control official told him the city might send the snake to a zoo or kill it.

Torgerson, meanwhile, is without the companion who comforted her during a struggle with a near-fatal illness. The nights are the worst, she said.

``I've had so much trouble sleeping, because Babette used to sleep with me with her little back up against mine,'' Torgerson said.

CAPTION(S):

3 photos, box

BOX: See you in court

Photo: (1 -- color) Flossie ``Jackie'' Torgerson

(2 -- color) Angus Johnson

(3 -- color) Alissss the snake
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Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 27, 1997
Words:661
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