Academics begin law clinic for Maryland farmers
SALISBURY, Md. (AP) - Following the lawsuit that brought national attention to Maryland farmers, a group of academics is working to find out what legal resources the stewards of Maryland's largest industry may want.
During the next several months, the cohort, which only has a year of funding, plans to hold interviews, send out surveys, host a few public meeting and form a plan to give farmers more legal options. The study was funded, in part, to find ways to support farmers after the University of Maryland Environmental Law Clinic took on the Waterkeeper Alliance as its client in the lawsuit against the Hudson family.
Whether that will be an agricultural law clinic, private attorneys with lower cost services for farmers, or more law training for university extension agents, Associate Dean of the Francis King Carey School of Law Teresa LaMaster said that will be determined by farmers.
"We weren't trying to predispose what the answer was. We were trying to figure out what the needs are first," LaMaster said.
The collaboration between the law school, the University of Maryland agriculture school, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore agriculture school and the university's agriculture extension department began after the Maryland General Assembly approved one year of funding in 2012.
During the remainder of this year, it plans to use the $250,000 in funding to conduct in-depth interviews with farmers throughout the state to learn what types of help they may want from attorneys and how they would like to receive it.
Pat Langenfelder, president of the Maryland Farm Bureau, said they are supportive of the initiative, but doesn't know exactly what a law clinic could provide.
"In the case of the Hudsons, had there been an ag law clinic, they would've been able to get in touch with them and perhaps that would have met their needs," Langenfelder said.
Alan and Kristin Hudson own a farm outside Berlin that was sued by the Waterkeeper Alliance in 2010 for violating the Clean Water Act.
A federal judge ruled in December 2012 the Hudsons, who raise chickens for Perdue, didn't violate didn't pollute a nearby river, as was alleged in the lawsuit.
Langenfelder said if a law clinic and not another option is decided as the best resource for Maryland farmers, the concept will still need financial support from state government and a clear idea of what type of agriculture law with which it's going to help.
"Estate planning is a whole different bailiwick than worrying about environmental issues," she said.
Sen. Richard Colburn, who originally wanted legislation to establish a law school, said he hopes a long-term solution will come out of the study to help farmers with whatever they may want.
He also wants the solution to bring together farmers and environmental organizations to solve their differences before suing each other.
"My hopes would be ... rather than to try to solve these issues through the judicial process that they try to identify those issues and work out a way to solve and mediate those concerns," he said. "Even though Perdue and Hudson won the lawsuit, you can't really say you won."