Monday, March 29, 2010

Sin of Omission

The Baltimore Sun editorial board is manufacturing a lot of sturm and drang over a legislative proposal requiring the University of Maryland’s environmental law clinic to disclose it’s client list and expenditures for the last two years, or lose hundreds of thousands of dollars from the state budget.

The Sun sees the measure as a heinous abridgement of academic freedom, and Perdue Farms flexing it’s political muscle to intimidate the law clinic. Clinic students filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Water Keeper Alliance and the Assateague Coastal Trust claiming that a small family farm run by Alan and Kristin Hudson, which raises chickens for Perdue, placed sewage sludge in a drainage ditch that feeds the Pocomoke River. The Maryland Department of the Environment already fined the farm for dumping the sewage (used as fertilizer). However, MDE could not conclusively link bacterial pollution in surrounding waters.

Yet the Sun editorial along a news story by the paper left out the very salient fact that the law clinic engages in political advocacy on behalf of narrow political interests. In fact, clinic students were unregistered taxpayer-funded lobbyists for environmental groups. According to the clinic’s website:

…student attorneys in the Environmental Law Clinic were the primary researchers and drafters of this legislation. Clinic students worked countless hours researching standing laws in the other 49 states, attending coalition work group sessions, and quickly responding to research questions posed by various General Assembly members. The students also drafted testimony for witnesses who testified at the bill hearings; the witnesses were from a coalition comprising the individual Riverkeepers and other environmental organizations including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, 1000 Friends of Maryland, and the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.

The clinic is also assisting various water keeper groups in petitioning the EPA to withdraw Maryland’s delegated authority to administer pollution permits under the Clean Water Act. If successful, this would cede state authority to the EPA in what are rightly local matters.

Given that the Water Keeper Alliance evolved from the primordial ooze of well heeled trial lawyers all the hue and cry over legislative bullying of altruistic law students assisting those who “otherwise may not have attorneys” as UM law professor Deb Eisenberg, said in an email to the MSBA litigation list serve, is all so much bunk.

One wonders what the Sun would think of the Hudsons availing themselves of Maryland law school students to advocate their case.

Or is it now the Sun’s editorial position that it is perfectly fine that taxpayer funds be used for blatant political advocacy?

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