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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Colburn planting seed for equity

Maryland State Sen. Richard Colburn, Eastern Shore Republican, got a half a loaf.
But, as they say — and as he admits — that is better than no loaf at all.
Early on in the just-completed Maryland legislative session, Colburn introduced a bill to take $500,000 from the funding for the University of Maryland system to establish an agricultural law clinic within the university’s School of Law.
Colburn has been fuming that pre-law students at Maryland have been doing the legal legwork for the Waterkeeper Alliance which is suing both Perdue Farms and Alan and Kristin Hudson, claiming the Hudson farm polluted a nearby stream.
“Many farm groups believe the suit could bankrupt the Hudson family and set a negative precedent for other family farms,” Colburn said. “And a major concern of mine is the necessity for the state to assist farmers in regards to future litigation.”
Gov. Martin O’Malley has shared that concern, writing the law school dean that, in essence, students at a land grant university should not be working against the families for which the land grant system was established.
Colburn’s vision was an agricultural law clinic “dedicated to assisting farmers in the state with estates and trust issues, compliance with environmental laws and other matters necessary to preserve family farms.”
His proposal did not become law in the just-ended session but he managed to get that half a loaf.
Colburn reported: “We successfully amended the budget bill to provide that $250,000 of the University of Maryland — Baltimore’s general operating expenses may only be used by the University System of Maryland institutions for agricultural purposes.”
And he added that those “agricultural purposes” would include “compliance with environmental laws and other matters necessary to preserve family farms.”
True, under that language, as Colburn points out, the $250,000 — or any part of it — could just as well be spent at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore as at the university’s law clinic.
But the point has been made.
If law schools at tax-supported land grant universities are going to field legal “teams,” make sure the game is played on a level field.

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