Murdaugh Stuart Madden: A Half Century’s Service, A Lasting Legacy

by Bernard Unti

Murdaugh Stuart Madden (1922-2008)
Years at HSUS: (1975-2008)
Major Accomplishments: Represented HSUS from the mid-1950s onward; founded HSUS’s Office of General Counsel, helped to create Institute for the Study of Animal Problems (ISAP); co-authored law notes column; brought lawsuit that led to establishment of wild horse sanctuary in Wyoming’s Pryor Mountain Range; framed original constitution of the World Society for the Protection of Animals; worked with every HSUS CEO. 

Murdaugh Stuart Madden, longtime HSUS general counsel, loved to tell the story of the George Whittell will contest, a situation that arose in 1970 when a colorful and enigmatic millionaire left money to the “Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Local or National).”

There was no group by that name, and the description left acres of room for argument over Whittell’s intent, so a California probate court invited humane organizations from around the country to apply for a share of the funds.  “So many attorneys showed up for the proceeding,” Madden would regale his listeners, “that the presiding judge said he might have to hand out numbered football jerseys.”

Working together, Madden and HSUS executive Mel Morse developed a plan for the creation of the Institute for the Study of Animal Problems (ISAP) to harness the work of scholars and scientists to address problems in animal welfare.  Their proposal received $1 million—more than any other organization—and ISAP became the center of The HSUS’s efforts to apply technical and practical expertise to the real world of animal pain and suffering. 

Madden’s handling of the Whittell affair was one highlight of a professional relationship with The HSUS that encompassed almost its entire organizational history.  His death at age 85 on January 13, 2008, ended an animal protection career that began with the 1956 litigation over The HSUS’s original name and culminated with his recent stewardship of bequest funds restricted to the promotion of non-animal methods in scientific research. 

A pioneer in animal law

The HSUS named Madden its general counsel in 1958 after his success in handling a number of cases for the fledgling organization.  In January 1975, president John Hoyt persuaded him to become in-house counsel, directing a new department to expand The HSUS’s role in prosecuting cruelty cases, litigating in state and federal courts, and participating in administrative proceedings of importance. 

In 1985, Madden produced a list of memorable cases he had handled for The HSUS, including:

  • a 1959 complaint charging a medical facility with 11 separate instances of cruelty to experimental animals under California law;
  • a 1959 petition against  the U.S. Postal Service’s  circulation of animal fighting literature;
  • a 1961 lawsuit in U.S. District Court seeking a restraining order on the television broadcast of rodeo in D.C., Va., Md., and Penn. areas of coverage—alleging that the rodeo would be legally considered “as criminal conduct involving moral turpitude”;
  • a 1968 injunction request to prevent the round up of wild mustangs in Wyoming’s Pryor Mountain range—which led to the establishment of a permanent wild horse sanctuary there;
  • a 1971 lawsuit attacking the U.S. government’s predator poisoning program;
  • a 1974 attempt to spur enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Calif. anti-cruelty statute in a case of cruelty to seagulls in the making of a Hollywood movie;
  • a 1974 complaint targeting a Defense Department plan to use chemical sprays to kill 14 million blackbirds at army facilities;
  • a 1977 letter/complaint to the New York attorney general; the letter aimed to stop a live bullfight set to take place on a barge four nautical miles off the New York coast.

Some of Madden’s cases took years to wind their way through the system, as did his 1970-1974 suit challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s practice of allowing sport hunting in three national wildlife refuges notwithstanding insufficient scientific data on the need for deer population control.

For many years, he co-authored a law notes column in HSUS News, keeping humanitarians everywhere informed about emerging legal developments affecting the interests of animals and their defenders.

Wisdom, vision, and passion for the cause

Madden’s position as the principal legal officer of a rapidly growing national organization in the 1960s and 1970s kept him busy on myriad fronts.  “Murdaugh was ever inventive in his theories of action and litigation tactics and was rarely impressed by other parties’ determination or resources,” said Roger Kindler—current HSUS general counsel—who had worked with Madden since 1973. 

“He always insisted upon maintaining the independence and objectivity of the general counsel’s office as legal advisor to the Society—an attitude that may be his most enduring legacy to The HSUS.” 

“Since he came out of a general practice tradition, he was also able to provide decades of sound guidance to The HSUS Board of Directors, officers, and staff,” Kindler said.  “In the 80s, The HSUS—like many young and growing non-profits—faced major governance and structural issues, and Murdaugh was at the center of their resolutions.  Most importantly, he always insisted upon maintaining the independence and objectivity of the general counsel’s office as legal advisor to the Society—an attitude that may be his most enduring legacy to The HSUS.”

Madden was a staunch defender of the principle that people should be able to make suitable arrangements for the care of animals following the deaths of owners and guardians. 

He penned several articles on the subject, cautioning against “elaborate legalistic approaches” involving legal and financial institutions.  “Lawyers rarely, and banks and courts never,” he warned, “act effectively in a situation where what is needed is quick action, compassion and understanding, and a warm and friendly hand.”

Internationally minded

Madden shared the views of early HSUS supporters like Alice Morgan Wright that the organization must be active in the international arena.  He attended the historic U.N. Conference on the Environment in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1972, in an attempt to put concern for animals onto the agenda of the international environmental community.  He was deeply disturbed by recommendations that developing nations seek to attract tourists by introducing or increasing hunting opportunities. 

In 1981, the veteran attorney also brokered the unification of entities that resulted in the formation of the World Society for the Protection of Animals. 

Renaissance man

Madden’s personal warmth, liveliness, and caring attitude made him a favorite with HSUS staff members, officers, and directors.  He took a genuine interest in individuals associated with the organization, and he was a gracious colleague whose sense of humor and wide-ranging interests made every conversation a stimulating one.  In a resplendent red vest befitting the season, he played the violin for many years at staff holiday parties. 

Madden was named HSUS senior counsel in 1990, a position he held at the time of his death.  He traveled, visited with friends, walked almost every day, and maintained a regular work schedule until just before his final illness.

He also maintained his keen interest in the development of animal law.  After the creation of The HSUS’s Animal Protection Litigation division in 2005, Madden frequently attended its meetings to share his insights concerning litigation strategies, impressing a younger generation of HSUS lawyers with his fantastic recall and professional acumen.  “I was especially struck by how welcoming he was, and what a keen interest he took in each of us as lawyers.” says Jonathan Lovvorn, vice president of the section.

Madden was the only person to work with every HSUS CEO from Fred Myers to Wayne Pacelle.

Case closed. Well done, counselor.


Bernard Unti, Ph.D. is senior policy adviser and special assistant to the CEO of The HSUS. He is the author of Protecting All Animals: A Fifty-Year History of The Humane Society of the United States, and is currently writing a book on the 19th century animal protection movement.

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