Maryland's General Assembly is currently considering budget amendments that withhold funding from the University System of Maryland and the University of Maryland, Baltimore unless the School of Law reports on individual cases, clients and expenditures for matters actively in litigation by its Environmental Law Clinic. At issue is a Clean Water Act citizen lawsuit brought by clients of the Clinic against poultry farmers and manufacturers allegedly polluting the Chesapeake Bay. The budget amendments have been put forward by legislators whose constituents — including named parties in the suit — question whether a law school, funded in part by tax dollars, should represent clients in a lawsuit that places in tension the health of our environment and the economic interests of some within the State. The Clinic's clients are residents of Maryland too, including a nonprofit environmental organization based on the Eastern Shore with more than 700 members.
The Law School and the General Assembly share a common responsibility to ensure state resources are used for the public good. The General Assembly holds, as a public trust, resources from the citizens of this State — our outstanding University System among them. As a public law school, we hold a public trust as well — to educate students committed to serving the public and to the highest ideas of ideals of the legal profession. As an institution funded in part by taxpayer dollars, the Law School takes very seriously its responsibility to use wisely the resources Maryland's citizens provide us. As lawyers teaching students to practice law in the public interest, we know that choosing a case or a client is a serious matter. We do so with extreme care and only when our efforts will advance the public good — as in this case, protection of the Chesapeake Bay.
But as an institution, we oppose in the strongest possible terms actions that — intended or not — interfere politically with the judicial process and the rule of law. Requests to disclose information about specific cases currently being litigated, and tying that request to the withholding of substantial amounts from the University budget, can be easily perceived as an attempt to intimidate faculty, students, clients — perhaps even the judges before whom the case is set. It is common practice for the legislature to require reports of state institutions and to condition funding upon their acceptable completion. Here, however, the General Assembly must consider carefully how that kind of reporting implicates the professional responsibility requirements of the lawyers, the rights of the clients, and the necessary independence of the courts as they resolve disputes. Careful reflection should lead legislators to the conclusion that the interests of the citizens of Maryland are sufficiently well served by reporting requirements that are consistent with our professional obligations and made without the threat of withholding funds.
As a life-long legal educator, and new Dean of this great Law School, my chief concern is educating our students to become outstanding lawyers with an abiding commitment to advancing the public interest. The integrity of our academic program — which includes some of the nation's premier clinical opportunities for students — and the freedom of our faculty to address controversial issues are all part of ensuring educational excellence. The current controversy creates an indelible educational moment for our students and, more broadly, for the citizens of this State. I urge the lesson be that while a public law school must be accountable to the State and its citizens, such accountability must not come at the expense of professional responsibility or the rule of law.
Phoebe A. Haddon
Dean and Professor of Law