The Environmental Law Clinic and the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s office have formed a partnership that allows the S.J. Quinney College of Law to offer an unusual and innovative clinical opportunity—a hybrid prosecution environmental law clinic. On behalf of the Department of Health, and in collaboration with attorneys in the Salt Lake County D.A.’s office, clinic students will work on regulatory and enforcement aspects of environmental law at the county level, and in some circumstances to develop their litigation skills through the use of the third-year practice rule in appropriate enforcement actions. With this partnership, the Environmental Law Clinic will be one of the first (if not the first) hybrid prosecution environmental clinic in the nation.
Students participating in the clinic will have the unique opportunity of working side-by-side with an attorney from the District Attorney’s Office on both a rulemaking project and at least one enforcement project. Through the regulatory projects, students will get a behind-the-scenes look at the legislative roles filled by agencies in their rulemaking capacity. This helps demystify the notice and comment process. Additionally, anyone who participates in drafting a law (statute or regulation gains a more sophisticated understanding of statutory interpretation. The enforcement projects supplement students’ experiences by providing the opportunity to develop litigation skills, including the process of working up a case, engaging in settlement discussions, and perhaps participating in a hearing. Following a case from its inception through conclusion, students also encounter the professional and ethical dilemmas that arise during direct representation. Through live-client representation, students to grapple with professional responsibility issues and begin the life-long process of developing good judgment.
In addition to providing a great educational opportunity for students, the clinic will also provide a service by augmenting Salt Lake County’s resources for prosecuting environmental violations. Law students can help work up cases that may otherwise be too small to justify the resources associated with enforcement. A two-fold benefit to the environment results: (1) by increasing its enforcement capacity, the Salt Lake County Health Department can use consistent enforcement on small-scale violations as an educational tool for the regulated community, which will hopefully avoid larger violations with more serious environmental consequences; (2) fewer environmental law violations is consistent with the clinic’s mission to participate in the shared social goal of preserving and protecting the integrity of the environment for the present and the future
The partnership has already reaped benefits. The students’ first day of class was filled by participating in an all-day Environmental Crimes training put on by the Environmental Task Force. Throughout the course of the training, students’ pre-conceived ideas about the practice of environmental law were challenged as they were exposed to the wide variety of ways in which environmental law is implicated in every-day problems that county health departments must address. Some of the presentations focused on more traditional environmental problems, like mitigating the contamination from spills after a semi-truck crashes on the freeway or after a manufacturing plant catches fire, to response and disposal practices for illegal dumping. But, the training also addressed less obvious environmental problems handled by the Salt Lake County Department of Health, like the massive solid waste disposal problem associated with transient camps throughout the county, or the overlap of enforcement authority associated with meth-related contamination of properties. Professor Jamie Pleune, who directs the Environmental Law Clinic, gave the key note address to the large and diverse crowd, and the students were warmly welcomed by County Attorney Sim Gill, Deputy District Attorney Mitch Park, and Department of Health personnel who are enthusiastic about the possibilities offered by this partnership.