Biting the Hand that (Sort of) Feeds It

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Maryland state legislators are threatening to withhold funds from the state’s public law school because of a lawsuit filed by one of the school’s legal clinics . According to an article by Annie Linskey and Timothy Wheeler in the Baltimore Sun:

A suit by the University of Maryland’s environmental law clinic that accuses poultry giant Perdue Farms and a small Eastern Shore farmer of pollution has angered Annapolis lawmakers, who are threatening to hold up hundreds of thousands of dollars in the university’s budget.

[Maryland State Senator Thomas M.] Middleton and 34 other senators have demanded that the law clinic turn over a list of clients and expenditures for the past two years, threatening to hold up $250,000 if the university does not comply. A similar measure in the House would freeze $500,000 in funding.

The lawsuit charges that runoff from the chicken farm of Maryland couple Alan and Kristin Hudson is polluting a stream leading to the Pocomoke River.

The lawsuit also holds Perdue Farms, the Maryland-based company that is the third-largest producer of chicken in the United States, responsible for the pollution. The Hudsons were raising Purdue chickens.

Shortly after the clinic filed the lawsuit, Perdue chairman Jim Perdue told the legislature the suit was a threat to small family farms (“one of the largest threats… in the last 50 years”). More importantly, however, the lawsuit appears to be a threat to one very large family farm: the Purdue company. According to the article:

A lot is at stake for Perdue – and for the poultry industry in general. The lawsuit is the first attempt in Maryland to hold a poultry company accountable for the environmental impact of the farms that raise birds under contract. The suit contends that Perdue dictates so much of how farmers handle their flocks that it effectively shares operational control of the farm.

The actions of state university’s legal clinics, which often take on controversial issues, are often troublesome to state legislatures, however. One Maryland legislator wondered how the state’s taxpayers would react if the university’s legal clinic decided to make women’s reproductive rights a major issue.

The state of Maryland provides about 30 percent of the law school’s $46 million budget. The environmental law clinic has a budget of $160,000; about $19,000 comes from the state. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer