Law, Politics, and Maryland

David Cassuto

A word on the dust-up at the University of Maryland.  The environmental law clinic at the University of Maryland School of Law has filed suit against some poultry producers alleging that their operations are fouling local rivers and that the runoff is polluting the Chesapeake Bay.  Defendants include local producers who raise chickens for Perdue as well as Perdue itself.  

Some in the Maryland legislature are decrying the clinic´s action as a threat to local agriculture and the family farm.  They seek to cut off $500,000 in aid to the clinic unless the clinic discloses who it has represented and how much it spends on each client.

Putting aside the sophistic misrepresentation of the lawsuit by some of these lawmakers, and the fact that runoff from chicken factories is a known and common source of contamination, and also the fact that this nonsense has created a PR bonanza for Perdue (which now gets to portray itself as the defender of the family farm), this proposed action by the legislature poses a threat to legal education as well as to the attorney/client privilege.

Law clinics represent those who would not otherwise have access to the courts or to the justice system.  Students get hands-on training and people who need it get legal representation.  The (re)action by the Maryland legislature  sends a terrible message to these young attorneys-to-be.  It tells them that politics and the local economy trump the rule of law, that students at state schools should ignore the merits of a given suit if an illegal activity is profitable for a politically powerful constituency, and that client confidentiality does not extend to those who entrust their representation to student attorneys at state schools.  

Nothing about this is good.  Last I checked, law enforcement was a good thing.  This lawsuit is an attempt to do just that.  Some in the legislature wish to quash the lawsuit — not on the merits but on the politics.  The fact that what´s happening in Maryland forms part of a nationwide trend should make us all very afraid.  Normally when politicians interfere in lawsuits we condemn it as self-interested meddling that undermines the justice system (see Patterson, David A.).  Why not the same hue and cry here? 

And then there´s the sad fact that so many elected representatives are ready to sacrifice the state´s environment at the altar of the factory farm.  That´s a subject for another day (and another, and another…).

2 Responses

  1. well, the facts as you’ve presented them would allow the clinic’s supporters to go on the offensive in the public arena. the sort of bluster demonstrated by the politicians and defendants, making this a public issue, could really come back to bite them in the court of public opinion if their bluff is called.

    my guess is that the people (and media) in MD have some affection for their bay, and the story of legal clinic vs. major corporation & crony politicians makes for a compelling, sympathetic story.

    and it is the sort of thing that students looking to advocate for the public interest should get accustomed to. it may actually be a very positive experience for the students. but this is not to say that it is not, indeed, a scary position to be in.

  2. […] while back, I blogged on the attempt by members of the Maryland legislature to strip funding for the University of […]

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