Prosecution gets taken to school (Editorial)
On June 25, in the final breakout session of the annual conference of the Waterkeeper Alliance in Chicago, Jane Barrett and Kathy Phillips led what promised to be a lively discussion.
Phillips is the Assateague Coastkeeper, and Barrett is director of the University of Maryland Law School’s Environmental Law Clinic.
Both were deeply involved in what became known as the Hudson case in which the Waterkeeper Alliance charged a Berlin, Md., farm family with violating the Clean Water Act.
Barrett was acting as lead attorney, pro bono, for the plaintiff, and Phillips had provided aerial photos of what was alleged to be evidence of the CWA violation.
Barrett and Phillips were to lead a discussion with this focus:
“It is important for citizens to do their homework before initiating a Clean Water Act lawsuit.”
The official program read: “This panel will present critical information about how to build and participate in a CWA citizen suit, including how to collect information on a suspected violator, how to protect evidence and communications from being disclosed to opposing parties, and how to be an effective witness in a case.”
On Dec. 20, when Judge William Nickerson in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, threw the Hudson case out, of course, asserting that the plaintiffs failed to prove that a CWA violation had occurred, he had some counsel of his own on citizens “doing their homework” before bringing a case to court.
In issuing his 50-page decision Judge Nickerson wrote: “While on the witness stand, Phillips tried to distance herself from statements made elsewhere by other spokespersons of Waterkeeper.
“It appears to the Court from her testimony, and the overall course of this litigation, that Waterkeeper has a goal of using the (Clean Water Act) to force poultry integrators, like Perdue, to seriously alter if not abandon their operations on the Eastern Shore.
“While no one could question the passion with which Phillips approaches that goal, the Court observed in her testimony and her conduct a certain ‘ends justifies the means’ approach, where truth can be ‘spun’ to achieve a desired goal.”
As you, Barrett and Phillips had argued at the Chicago breakout session, do your homework.
P.S. A reader has suggested that if the law school is about “educating” its students, it should have offered to provide assistance as well to the defense of the Hudsons.
“Such an opportunity,” the reader suggested, “would allow real-time participation and learning. It would also allow for classroom discussion in presenting the pros and cons from both viewpoints, and provide for personal growth, understanding and real world experience to the students.”
The fact that that did not happen suggests strongly that the law clinic, and perhaps its administrators, have an agenda which overrides its responsibility to provide a balanced education.