BERLIN – Professors at the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Maryland Law School will not surrender client names or accounts of money spent.
“We won’t disclose confidential information,” said Rena Steinzor, past director and professor of the Environmental Law Clinic. “We are lawyers first and professors second.”
Future clients do not need to fear that their personal information will be disclosed to politicians, because law school educators simply will not do it.
“We’d quit first,” Steinzor said.
Legislators in the General Assembly, when they decided to add amendments to the state budget threatening to strip some funding from the University of Maryland Law School last week, could not have imagined the strong and immediate outcry from the legal community across the U. S.
“There’s been an absolute crescendo of reaction around the country,” said Steinzor.
Thursday afternoon, American Bar Association President Carolyn B. Lamm, issued a statement denouncing the legislature’s attempt to intimidate the law clinic.
“I urge those who would undermine clinical law school programs to step back and remember that the rule of law cannot survive if pressure prevents lawyers from fulfilling their responsibilities to their clients. I call on lawyers in every state to remember their professional obligation to uphold the independence of their profession, and speak out against intimidation whenever they see it. Just as lawyers who represent unpopular clients are fulfilling the responsibilities of all lawyers, so too are law students who assist clients in clinical legal programs,” said Lamm.
The clinic also received a letter of support signed by 50 law school deans and 470 law school faculty members.
The University of Maryland Law School student body is also gathering signatures on a petition, with 150 signatures collected by late Thursday afternoon. Environmental Law Clinic alumni, faculty, and deans are also protesting the General Assembly’s actions.
The law clinic is not intimidated, according to Steinzor.
“This will not stop us from pursuing our clients’ interest in court,” said Steinzor.
As part of the education of law students, environmental law clinics provide pro bono attorney services to citizens who cannot afford to hire an attorney over environmental concerns. The law clinic filed a pollution lawsuit on behalf of the Waterkeeper Alliance and Assateague Coastal Trust (ACT) against Perdue and Hudson Farm in early March.
Both houses of the General Assembly made a move this week to apparently punish the University of Maryland Environmental Law Clinic for taking part in that lawsuit against Perdue Chicken and the Hudson Farm by amending the state budget to cut law school funding, up to $750,000, unless the clinic turns over its client list and an account of money spent.
The Perdue and Hudson Farm lawsuit should be decided by the courts, not the legislature, lawsuit plaintiffs said this week.
“What’s shocking to me is the lengths Perdue is going to trying to avoid doing what every other industry in the county has to do, and taking responsibility for its waste. It’s shocking on so many levels,” said Scott Edwards, director of advocacy for the Waterkeeper Alliance.
Edwards is outraged that, for all intents and purposes, Perdue is attempting to have the lawsuit tried in the legislature.
Perdue, Edwards said, is trying to do a run around the legal process by getting the legislature involved, by persuading the Maryland Department of the Environment to treat Hudson Farm with lenience, and by getting Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley to present the company with an environmental award recently.
“We’re not going to try the case in the press or the state legislature like Perdue wants us to. That’s what judges are for,” Edwards said. “We’re focused on getting Perdue to take responsibility for its waste. Our hope is we will get a federal judge who agrees with us and looks at the facts of the case and looks at the law.”
Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips, director of ACT, watched some of the debate in the General Assembly on the amendment to strip funding from the law clinic.
“Misinformation was debated on both sides in the General Assembly as they grappled with adding this amendment to the budget and that just points out why there are courts. You don’t attempt to try the case in the Maryland Legislature. Leave it to the courts. That’s what our judicial system is for,” Phillips said.
The Waterkeepers and ACT are suing Perdue and Hudson Farm under a section of the Clean Water Act providing for citizen lawsuits pursuing better enforcement. The Clean Water Act was first enacted in 1977.
“We’re not making new law here. It’s an existing law. It’s been on the books for years. It applies to everybody. What they’re fighting against is the law applying to them,” Edwards said.