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The University of Maryland School of Law won a partial legislative victory Friday when the Maryland House of Delegates rejected a measure that would strip funding from the university unless its environmental law clinic reported certain client information. The clinic has been at the center of a controversy pitting advocates of law school clinics against state lawmakers concerned about the effect clinic activities may have on local industry. Maryland was just the latest state in which government officials or legal opponents have sought to clamp down or obtain information about the working of a law school clinic — clinics in Louisiana, New Jersey and Michigan have also come under attack recently. Legal educators and clinic advocates have actively fought such efforts, arguing that the clinics essentially function as law firms, their activities protected by attorney-client privilege. The Maryland fight stems from a lawsuit that the law school’s environmental law clinic filed on March 2 on behalf of an environmental group against poultry giant Perdue Farms and a chicken farmer who supplies the company. The lawsuit contends that the defendants are illegally discharging pollution into the Franklin Branch and Pocomoke River, which feed into the Chesapeake Bay. Two weeks ago, the Maryland Senate passed a budget amendment that would require the environmental law clinic to disclose its clients and expenditures for the past two years, or else the university would lose $250,000 in state funding. The House of Delegates initially considered even stricter measures and larger funding cuts against the university, but backed away. On Friday, the House approved an amendment requiring the environmental clinic to report its activities from the past two years, but did not call for any funding cuts. Legislators from both houses are expected to resolve the difference in both bills this week. A law school spokesman said school officials hope the Senate will accept the House of Delegates amendment. Law school dean Phoebe Haddon said in a written statement that she was pleased the funding cuts were removed from the House of Delegates amendment. However, requiring the clinic to disclose certain information is still problematic, she said. “I remain convinced that the obligation to report on cases in active litigation interferes with the judicial process, I recognize the hard work that has led to this point and hope the Conference Committee will agree to the amendment that unanimously passed the House [Friday],” Haddon wrote. Maryland law professor Rena Steinzor, who led the environmental law clinic for 12 years, said the initial action considered by lawmakers appeared to be an attempt to gain access to the clinical case files in order to glean information about legal strategy. Under the House of Delegates amendment, the reporting of “non-privileged” information would be limited to public records, such as court filings, she said. “We don’t want to have to go through this again,” Steinzor said. “What are you teaching students if you are afraid to represent the disadvantaged?”

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