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Md. Senate threatens funding cut to U-Md. law clinic over Big Chicken suit

In Maryland, messing with Big Chicken can bring big trouble.

The latest case study is playing out now in Annapolis, where the state Senate wants to impose greater scrutiny on the University of Maryland's environmental law clinic. The reason? Apparently, it's the law clinic's recent pro bono work for an environmental group that is suing an Eastern Shore chicken farmer and the poultry giant Perdue Farms.

In that lawsuit, filed earlier this month, the Assateague Coastal Trust alleged that waste running off the farm near Berlin, Md.--where the Hudson family raises chickens for Perdue--was fouling the Pocomoke River. Downstream, the suit said, waste from the farm could flow to the Chesapeake Bay, carrying both bacteria and fuel for oxygen-sucking algae blooms.

A few weeks later, legislators proposed taking away hundreds of thousands of dollars from the law school's budget unless the clinic spelled out exactly who it represented, and how much it spent on each client.

The Senate eventually passed compromise language from Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), which applies only to the law clinic's environmental arm. It requires the environmental law clinic to spell out who it represented for the last two years, and some details of what it spent.

If not, the school loses $250,000.

"It's better than it was, but it's still a pretty big abridgement of academic freedom," Frosh said Friday. He said the language amounted to a threat: "If you guys are getting involved in issues that we don't like, or you're bothering people that we do like, we want you to shut up."

Rena Steinzor, a law professor at Maryland and the former director of environmental law clinic, said she thought the measure was an attempt at bullying the clinic. "It's not acceptable, because it is an effort to chill and intimidate us for taking cases that cause trouble in Annapolis."

The Senate language must now be approved by the House.

Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus (R-Somerset), who was a driving force behind the legislation, could not be reached for comment this afternoon. At Perdue, spokesman Luis Luna said that Eastern Shore legislators had brought up objections to the clinic after a talk with company chairman Jim Perdue.

Perdue's message to the legislators, Luna said, was that the kind of lawsuit filed against the farm was "the biggest threat to agriculture of the past 50 years."

Also Friday, the Maryland Department of the Environment announced a $4,000 fine for the farm that started it all. The department said that the farm had placed sewage sludge--treated human waste, used as fertilizer--too close to a drainage ditch, where it might contaminate runoff.

But, the department said, its investigation did not turn up "strong evidence conclusively linking bacterial pollution" in nearby waters to the farm.

-- David A. Fahrenthold

By David A. Fahrenthold  |  March 26, 2010; 5:07 PM ET
Categories:  General Assembly  
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Comments

The law clinic does not answer its mail and if I didn't see some tentative indications that it was actually on the side of the environment in a genuine and sincere way, I would accuse it of being a Smoking, Smoked, Red Herring, SMOKE SCREEN for what has come, colloquially, to be called DAMAGE CONTROL on the part of a NEPOTISTIC Governor who has failed in his efforts to clean up THE BAY and an AWOL Attorney General who campaigned on the promise of being the attorney general to clean up THE BAY.

There is far, far more to this story than meets the eye or THE NOSE and Fahrenthold is strongly encouraged to keep up the good work, no matter how much, or precisely because, IT STINKS TO HIGH HEAVEN.

Posted by: properbostonian1 | March 27, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse

Boycott purdue. they give these indebted (highly) farmers grief and steroid gross chicken.

Posted by: FiatBooks | March 27, 2010 1:51 PM | Report abuse

Do you realize how much debt these farmers go into due to threats by Purdue and Tyson to change the chicken houses? All of it is on the farmer's debt. If a farmer doesn't do it, he or she will be dropped. SCREW Purdue. They also claim that they own the chickens but not the poop. That makes sense.
Responsible business practices with Purdue? NEVER.

Posted by: FiatBooks | March 27, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Do you realize how much debt these farmers go into due to threats by Purdue and Tyson to change the chicken houses? All of it is on the farmer's debt. If a farmer doesn't do it, he or she will be dropped. SCREW Purdue. They also claim that they own the chickens but not the poop. That makes sense.
Responsible business practices with Purdue? NEVER.

Posted by: FiatBooks | March 27, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

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