Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Romano: A dog bite dispute in Pasco County gets 'Judge Judy' justice

Photo of Melody Kelly, 50, of New Port Richey at a hospital after being bitten by a neighbor's pit bull in April.

Photo of Melody Kelly, 50, of New Port Richey at a hospital after being bitten by a neighbor's pit bull in April.

This is a story of justice disguised as entertainment. Or maybe entertainment disguised as justice. Either way, it's about a woman bit in the face by a neighbor's dog.

It starts routinely enough on an April day in a nondescript neighborhood in New Port Richey, where Melody Kelly was waiting outside for her husband, along with her Shih Tzu named Molly.

From two doors down, a neighbor's dog came charging toward them. Fearing for her own dog, Kelly, 50, said she picked Molly up as the other dog began circling them.

When Kelly made a move toward the door, she said the dog jumped on her back. Then it bit her elbow. As she screamed for help, she said the dog leaped up and bit her just above her left eye.

Kelly's 18-year-old son Jordan came running out of the house and distracted the dog while she escaped inside. By the time she got in an ambulance, Kelly said the paramedics were debating whether she should be airlifted because a flap of loose skin was obscuring their view of her eye, and they feared she might lose it.

"What if my son hadn't been home?'' Kelly said recently. "It could have gotten my cheek, and ripped my whole face. If it had gone for my throat, I would be dead.''

Kelly described the other dog as a pit bull. The owner, Myline Berrios, says her dog Jayden is more of a lab with some pit bull mixed in.

Berrios says it was the Shih Tzu that was running free, and Jayden got out of the garage and gave chase. She said Kelly's injury was the result of a head-butt, not a bite.

About the only part of the story not in dispute?

Everyone agrees Berrios stopped by the next day with flowers. She apologized and promised to take responsibility for the medical bills.

Five months later, they were all on the Judge Judy show.

Kelly, a part-time bartender, says Berrios stopped responding as bills totaling thousands of dollars began to arrive. Berrios says Kelly was exaggerating the incident and looking to cash in.

Kelly eventually contacted two different law firms and got the same story from each:

Berrios, 32, was renting the house, did not have renter's insurance and did not appear to have much in the way of assets. And the owner of the house had insurance that specifically stated it did not cover dog incidents. All of which meant the attorneys saw little chance of recovering significant funds, so they suggested Kelly seek restitution through small claims court.

And that's where a scout for the Judge Judy show discovered the paperwork.

A producer pitched the idea to Kelly by explaining she could receive as much as $5,000 from the show if the judge ruled in her favor.

The incentive for Berrios was Kelly had to agree any decision was binding and would file no further claims.

Without spoiling too much, the judge ruled in Kelly's favor.

Berrios, who was fined almost $300 by Pasco County for improper confinement of a vicious animal and allowing an animal to run loose, says the show's producers encouraged her to be combative and adjust her version of events for a more dramatic story. She now says she feels duped.

Kelly, meanwhile, says the $5,000 didn't quite cover all her bills, but she figures it was a surer bet than trying to get money out of Berrios. She's undergoing laser treatments to hide the scar above her eye.

"Taking this to Judge Judy means (Berrios) is off the hook forever,'' Kelly said. "She got a trip to Los Angeles, and she got paid for being on the show. It stinks. She lucks out, and I'm scarred for life.''

Berrios says she isn't feeling too lucky these days. "I'm getting dirty looks in my own neighborhood,'' Berrios said. "I'm tired of this. I just want it to be over.''

She'll have to wait a little while longer. The Judge Judy episode is not scheduled to air until later in October.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

Romano: A dog bite dispute in Pasco County gets 'Judge Judy' justice 10/11/14 [Last modified: Saturday, October 11, 2014 7:55pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Brian Ballard's lobbying shop in Washington get a big contract


    Ballard Partners, the Florida lobbying firm led by Brian Ballard, is quickly ramping up in Washington and just landed a high-profile contract: the government of Turkey.

  2. Shakeup on Adam Putnam campaign


    In a sign of unsteadiness for what  had  looked like a strong-out-of-the-gate Adam Putnam campaign, the Republican frontrunner suddenly fired his campaign manager and political director. Hard-charging Campaign manager Kristin Davis and political director Jared Small were two of the three outsiders to join …

    Putnam campaigning in Destin the other day as part of his 22-city bus tour
  3. Rays let early lead get away again in loss to Angels (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — As pleased as the Rays were to win consecutive series against the contending Red Sox, Indians and Yankees and to get briefly back over .500, there was a lot of talk in the clubhouse before Monday's game against the Angels that it was time to do better.

    Tampa Bay Rays third base coach Charlie Montoyo (25) high fives designated hitter Corey Dickerson (10) as he rounds third on his lead off home run in the first inning of the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Angels at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Monday, May 22, 2017.
  4. Tampa man arrested for killing man in his USF-area home


    TAMPA — A Tampa man was arrested Monday in the death of man found killed at a home in the University of South Florida area last week, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

    Kadeem Dareem Archibald, 26, was arrested Monday on a  second degree murder charge in the University Area killing of Khando Kerr. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  5. Report: Trump asked intel chiefs to push back against FBI collusion probe after Comey revealed its existence


    President Donald Trump asked two of the nation's top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against an FBI investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government, the Washington Post reports, citing current and former officials.

    From  left, CIA Director Mike Pompeo; Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats; and National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael Rogers take their seats on Capitol Hill on May 11 before  testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on major threats facing the U.S. [Associated Press]