Revolutions

Most students understand the difference between revolutions and social movements.  Revolutions usually connote the overthrow of the established order while movements are a type of group social movement for a particular purpose.  And yet, I wonder if we are now witnessing the convergence of these two social constructs.

For example, in Vermont and other rural states, we are seeing another generation of young people (in this case, Millennials) coming back to work and live from the land in a post-modern, back-to-the-garden way. These are folks who know how to use an iPhone, rotate grazing, enrich the soil, post a blog, AND negotiate organic certification.

Of course, farming has always been the province of the hard-working, innovative pioneers (remember the recent Super Bowl ad that reprised Paul Harvey’s famous “So God Made a Farmer”). It is no wonder that new people are coming to the land hoping to do justice by nature while feeding the masses.  This is an awesome undertaking, not for the faint of heart, but for the bold of spirit – revolutionaries who understand how to be part of a social movement.

Laurie Ristino
Associate Professor of Law, Director of the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems

A Careful Consideration of GMOs

In my food and agriculture class, we’ve been working through a rather controversial GMO paper by de Vendemois. It is technically dense, to say the least — the abstract of this paper mentions MON 810, False Discovery Rate, Principal Component Analysis, isogenic, Bt, detoxifying, hepatorenal, and on and on. Yet at its core, this paper is quite simple. It compares rats fed GMO corn to control rats fed non-GMO corn. The authors claim that the liver and kidney function of rats fed GM corn differ, as compared to control rats fed non-GMO corn.  We are taking a couple weeks in class to work through this one paper.

In teaching technical material like this, I like to illustrate the core concepts with simple demonstrations. Thus, in our first class on the de Vendemois paper, I brought to class an armload of props, including a straw hat full of garbanzo and kidney beans, a bottle of fake maple syrup, a map of the world, an annual report from Hewlett-Packard, a pair of calipers and a quarter, and a toy crossbow made out of a pen, pencil and rubber band (which I shot in class, being careful to avoid a tort in my class, something very different from a torts class).

In the Starlink corn and In Re Genetically Modified Rice Litigation legal cases, non-GMO grain was contaminated with GMO grain. (I use the passive voice here deliberately.) Both resulted in multi-million dollar settlements. Critically, the damages arose because GMO grain sells for less (because consumers prefer non-GMO foods), not because the plaintiffs demonstrated in court any adverse health consequences from consuming GMO grain. These very substantial damage awards are rooted in economic markets, not human health.

This brings us back to the de Vendemois paper. If he really did find adverse health effects of GMOs, this quite likely would significantly alter the legal landscape. So what did he find? What should we believe?

All of this important to consider, especially in Vermont, where for the third time in three years, a bill has been introduced in the legislature regarding GMO labeling.

Craig Pease
Professor of Science and Law

Environmental Legal Clinic Strengthened By Second-Semester Students

The ENRLC is fortunate to have five outstanding students who have returned for a second semester at the Clinic this spring – Juliette Balette ‘13, Mitty Barnard ‘13, Jillian Bernstein ‘13, Mary Olive ‘13, and Rachel Stevens ‘13.  Each of these second-semester students has assumed responsibility for one of the Clinic’s complex projects, such as the proposed tar sands pipeline through Vermont, the GMO labeling bill pending before the Vermont legislature, or the Act 250 challenge to the proposed asphalt plant in Graniteville.

“I have learned more about lawyering at the ENRLC than through any other experience in my law school career,” says Juliette Balette, head of the clean water investigations team.  “I am deepening my knowledge of the Clean Water Act and other laws, applying these laws creatively to move my cases forward, and learning so much from the Clinic attorneys.”

“Working at the Clinic for a second semester is an invaluable experience for us and for our clients,” added Mitty Barnard, leader of the Clinic’s coal teams.  “Our clients benefit from our extensive understanding of their cases, and we benefit from an enhanced experience that gives us an edge in the shifting job market.”

Similarly, a deep commitment to her clients led Rachel Stevens to return.   “My clients’ enthusiasm for and recognition of my work motivated me to continue advocating for them,” said Stevens, who leads the Clinic’s Graniteville-Act 250 team.

In past years the Clinic has had occasional second-semester students, but VLS recently formalized an Advanced Clinic course that Clinic Director Doug Ruley is encouraging more students to take advantage of.   “Second-semester students enhance our representation of our clients and our educational mission,” said Ruley.   He added that the new Center for Legal Services provides plenty of room for first- and second-semester clinicians, and students may receive as much credit at the Clinic as they choose.

The Advanced Clinic option also encourages greater reflection on the multidisciplinary nature of most environmental litigation.  “My cases demand that I address multiple legal and environmental issues together, including land use, clean energy, and climate change” said Mary Olive, who leads the tar sands pipeline team.

“Before working at the clinic, I used to tell my friends and family that I was tired of learning the law; I wanted to learn how to be a lawyer.  That is exactly what the clinic is all about,” said Jillian Bernstein, leader of the GMO labeling team.  “I stayed for a second semester so I could continue to learn and grow as a lawyer in a safe environment where I can take the lead on my cases but still have help or backup when I need it.”  

Doug Ruley
Associate Professor of Law, Director of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic

VLS Board Fellows

In my experience, students who come to Vermont Law School want to “change the world.” They plan to use their legal skills to protect the environment, prevent domestic violence, defend human rights, promote the arts, educate youth, reform the criminal justice system, and pursue any number of other strategies to improve life in the United States and around the world. Fortunately, VLS students need not wait for graduation to begin making these changes. Among the many opportunities at VLS is the chance to become a Board Fellow—a non-voting member of the board of directors of a local nonprofit organization.

VLS students serve as Board Fellows in a variety of non-profits – including at a nature center, farmer’s market, therapeutic riding center, day care, homeless shelter, and a design school. They also work with organizations devoted to educating adults of differing learning abilities, maintaining river health, providing community resources for the local economy, bringing health care to the local schools, and keeping children out of the foster system.

Board Fellows attend meetings and work on a project the organization is undertaking. For example, Jared Carpenter ’14 helped write a strategic plan for North Branch Nature Center, and Norika Kida ’13 and Jared Bianchi ’13 were instrumental in recruiting a local attorney with expertise in Special Education Law (Tyler St. Cyr ’12) to the board of Global Campuses.

Altogether, 20 VLS students serve with 14 nonprofit partners. These students gain direct experience in nonprofit governance and management, along with the knowledge they are helping an organization and its community. In return, the nonprofits benefit from the students’ energy, insight and fresh ideas.  One board member from two of the participating nonprofits recently told me, “It goes without saying that I am a big fan of the board fellows program. I know from experience that the two organizations I am involved with have benefited greatly.” Another wrote into the online newspaper, Vermont Digger, “I can attest to the strong value of this program. Our two Board fellows over this past year were extremely helpful, a welcome addition to a small, grassroots organization looking to make a difference.” The Board Fellows program is a perfect example of VLS students living up to the school’s motto—“serving the community and the world.”

Betsy Schmidt
Associate Professor of Law

Study Abroad at VLS

bolzanomap

A wealth of international programs is just one of many reasons to enroll at Vermont Law School!

I recently returned from a trip to Bolzano, Italy where I made two presentations at the Winter School on Federalism and Fundamental Rights of the European Academy (EURAC) of Bolzano.

Students at the EURAC Winter School come from all over the world, including Ukraine, Tibet, India, Brazil, Nigeria, as well as from most countries of Western and Eastern Europe.  Most have graduate degrees in political science, government, or a related field.  To this group of very interesting students I gave one lecture on “Federalism and Fundamental Rights in the U.S.”

Since my lecture was near the end of the winter school, this generated several discussions comparing rights in the U.S. federal system with those of other countries.  Faculty from the United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, and Switzerland presented on other topics pertaining to the general theme of federalism and fundamental rights.

On the last day of the winter school, I gave the closing, public lecture on the topic of “Race and Federalism in the U.S.” Most of the audience was not familiar with the sad history of racism in the U.S. and the effect that racial issues had on the development of our federal system from the beginning.   Thus, there was a lively discussion following my lecture.

Taking advantage of this visit to northern Italy, my wife and I spent a few days in Rome, arriving on the day that the Pope announced his decision to retire. (We assume that was simply coincidence and not causation.)  After doing a little sightseeing, we took a lovely, 4.5 hour train ride up to northern Italy, passing through Florence on the way.  As we neared Trento and Bolzano, we were struck by the vineyards that fill the valleys of that area.  We also had a chance to sample the delightful, local (and inexpensive) wines.

Upon leaving the train station in Bolzano, we thought we might have arrived in Austria or Germany because the town is very much Germanic in its appearance, unlike the other Italian cities we had passed through on our trip.  It turns out that this is not at all surprising since before the end of World War I, Bolzano and the South Tyrol area of Italy were part of Austria.  Today, approximately a third of the population is ethnic German.  Most residents are bi-lingual and parents can have their children educated in either German-speaking or Italian-speaking schools.

A visit to Bolzano by VLS Professor Emeritus Richard Brooks some 15 years ago led to the creation of the VLS programs for study at the University of Trento, located south of Bolzano.  Professor Brooks was visiting his daughter in Bolzano when he decided to visit the University of Trento to explore the possibility of exchange programs.  As a result of that first visit, VLS students now take advantage of the opportunity to take a seminar or a semester in Italy for courses taught in English at the University of Trento.

The countryside surrounding Bolzano and Trento is truly beautiful and either city is a wonderful place to study, for a few weeks, a full semester, or longer.

VLS offers many other opportunities to study abroad—in China, England, France, and Spain.  These include short seminars, a semester or summer program, as well as dual degree programs.  Full information about the broad international offerings at VLS can be found at http://www.vermontlaw.edu/Academics/International_and_Comparative_Law_Programs.htm

Gil Kujovich
Professor of Law

 

Law, Food, & the Radio

One of the things I love most about Vermont Law School is its law students.

Last month, I had just started as Director of the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems when I received an email from students who were soliciting programming ideas for a new, community-based low-frequency radio station.  The message got me thinking — wouldn’t it be cool to create a food radio talk show where we explore all things food?

So, I sent a message to our all of our law students asking if they wanted to start a food radio show called Food Talk.  Nine students showed at the first meeting, including three 1Ls who I now refer to as the 1L Mafia for their miraculous grasp of sound editing equipment and Constitutional Law.  The students developed their own organizational structure, releases, property agreements, and trademark work.

So, Food Radio isn’t just about Radio or even the law and policy of food from the perspectives of people living it, but also about governance, intellectual property, and creativity (more than a little of which is useful for a successful legal career).

And guess what…we just posted our first show!  Highlights include a debate on GMO Labeling,an update the Federal Farm Bill, and interviews VLS President & Dean Marc Mihaly, Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross, farmer and former state representative David Ainsworth, the owners of a gourmet burger shop in South Royalton, VT – the Worthy Burger.

Laurie Ristino, Director, Center for Agriculture and Food RistinoSystems

View Faculty Profile

Environmental Clinic Wins Long Campaign for Passamaquoddy Bay

passamaquoddybay

The Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic has prevailed in its seven-year battle over a proposal to build a Liquefied Natural Gas terminal at Pleasant Point on the shores of beautiful Passamaquoddy Bay.

In 2005, the Clinic filed suit on behalf of a group of Passamaquoddy tribal members challenging the decision of the Bureau of Indian Affairs to approve a lease to construct the terminal at a site with great historic and spiritual significance to the Passamaquoddy people. The case wound a tortuous path through the federal courts, with two trips to the First Circuit before the matter was referred to the Interior Board of Indian Appeals.

As time passed the Canadian Government registered formal diplomatic opposition to supertankers transecting its waters, the market for East Coast LNG collapsed, and the developers’ financing faded.   Still, the project, like the walking dead, lingered in the shadows.   That ended on January 25, 2013, when the IBIA issued an order vacating the approval of the lease and declaring the case — at long last — at an end.

Many hands contributed to this success, first and foremost the dozen or so clinicians who slaved over the countless briefs it took to counter the machinations of the government lawyers, including a companion case under FOIA that forced disclosure of documents hidden from public view for years.  Justin Kolber ‘07, the clinic’s first Fellow, argued before the First Circuit in the early round.  Teresa Clemmer, staff attorney and acting director of the clinic, took over the case and argued the second round before the Circuit.  And last but not least, Laura Murphy administered the coup de grace by convincing the IBIA to bury this bad idea once and for all.

The Passamaquoddy refer to themselves as the People of the Dawn. Whales and porpoise and other marine life play a prominent role in their culture, nutrition, ceremonies and heritage. Thanks to the clinic the critically endangered right whales that ply the waters of Passamaquoddy Bay will not have to compete with tankers.

Doug Ruley,Ruley Associate Professor of Law, Director of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic

View Faculty Profile

Examining Gun Control

Recent events involving gun violence—including the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Vice President’s Biden’s gun task force, pending state and federal  gun control legislation and the ongoing public debate on guns and violence—led to an amazing discussion in my Scientific Controversies class a couple weeks ago on gun control.  This class was typical of my approach, in that it entailed both discussion of a technically  dense scientific paper, as well as a discussion of the legal, political, economic and policy implications of that science.

In that class, we worked through Kellerman’s scientific paper on guns and violence, Gun ownership as a risk factor for homicide in the home, including  several cogent critiques of it.  I am not going to reproduce here our entire class discussion, but rather highlight one key technical issue, and its broader policy implications.  In this study, Kellerman compares households where a homicide had happened, to nearby similar households  where no homicide occurred. He finds relatively more guns in the latter as compared to the former. This seems simple enough. But a serious problem lurks.

Technically, Kellerman found a correlation between homicide and guns: those households where homicides occurred had relatively more guns, as compared to homes without homicides.  Critically however, we don’t know what caused what. We do know (because Kellerman tells us) that these households differed in ways other than gun ownership. For example there was relatively more alcoholism in the homicide households.

Why did the households with the homicides have more guns? Perhaps the guns caused the homicides (i.e., Guns—> Homicide), implying that these homicides would not have happened if the guns were not there, and implying that controlling guns would reduce homicide. Alternatively, perhaps the residents of those households where homicides did occur felt more unsafe, and purchased guns for their own protection (i.e., Social Environment—>Gun purchase & Social environment—> Homicide). In this situation, controlling for the presence of guns would actually increase homicide. Based on Kellerman’s data, we simply do not know.

Exactly the same problem arises when we compare states with and without gun control—urban states and large cities tend to have stricter gun control and also higher incidence of homicide, and rural states have less strict gun control and lower incidence of homicide. For example, Vermont has extraordinarily permissive gun laws (i.e. no permit needed for concealed carry, with few exceptions), and a low incidence of homicide. What causes what?

Critically, the issues in Kellerman’s paper arise in many other contexts, when we attempt to compare the effectiveness of alternative policies, be they policies on gun control, welfare, economic development, or environmental protection. In theory, federalism gives the fifty states freedom to implement alternative policies, so that we can see what works and what doesn’t. But when we compare states with different policies, we run into the exact same problem that Kellerman ran into.

Likely, all of this is unsatisfying. But I think it is realistic and makes for a fascinating classroom discussion.

Craig PeaseCraig Pease, Professor of Science and Law

View Faculty Profile

VLS graduates = Change-Makers

What will you do when you graduate from Vermont Law School? You will, of course, make that decision for yourself, but I predict you will become a change-maker, like so many of your fellow alumni. Here are a few stories from some of our recent grads.

  • Jon Hamlin ‘10 and two friends co-founded Sustainable Aerodynamic Concepts, a nonprofit that manufactures energy saving products from decommissioned semi trailers. SA Concepts’ primary product is a skirt for new semi-trailers, which improves the trucks’ aerodynamics. The company’s employees are all veterans who are also pursuing higher education. SA Concepts thus helps veterans find jobs, while making the trucking industry more economically and environmentally sustainable.
  • Kenneth Miller ’09 is the founding partner of Law for Food, LLC, which provides services to small-scale farmers and food entrepreneurs to support the sustainable production of healthy food.
  • Deanna Jones ‘11 is president of the National Federation of the Blind of Vermont. She recently brought three young blind people to Washington D.C. for a march on Washington and for visits with the Vermont Congressional delegation regarding legislation that pertains to the blind.
  • Emile Syrewicze ‘11 is the executive director of Foundation for Mental Health, which addresses the critical need for stable, affordable housing for people with mental health needs in northwest lower Michigan. It also raises awareness of mental health and affordable housing needs and coordinates support services for persons with these needs.
  • Erin Jacobsen ’11 is the legal counsel for Vermont Immigration and Asylum Advocates, an organization that protects the human rights of individuals and families who have fled their homelands by providing free or low fee, professional legal services.

These young alumni are part of a wider group of equally impressive alumni. Among our grads are the Parliamentarian for the U.S. Senate, a CNN hero, and the Vice President for Environmental, Health & Safety Compliance at Wal-Mart.  They and others can also be your role models.

VLS grads have a mission—and people with a mission can always find work to do. They simply roll up their sleeves and get going.

Betsy Schmidt, Associate Professor of LawElizabeth Schmidt

View Faculty Profile

Continuous Reminders

On the first day of Corporations class this January, I invited students to introduce themselves and then to ask me anything.  Some posed serious questions about my work experience, and others whimsical ones about my favorite bands and whether I liked to ski. One of the first students to inquire asked why I’d chosen to teach at Vermont Law School.  My answer? “You. The students, the staff, the faculty here.”  This was something I’d thought about two years earlier, when I visited VLS for the first time.

It was mid-December. I’d arrived in Vermont the night before for dinner with a small group of faculty. And, now was on campus for a long day of interviews, meals and tours with faculty, students and staff. By early evening, I settled into one last interview. It was in a small conference room and the faculty members there told me what made this place special. This was the last of many campus interviews at law schools across the country. It was a cold winter night and the sky was clear. I don’t remember all of the details of what was said, but I do remember one particular thought. Driving away from the school, a sentence repeated in my mind. “If I get an offer from this school and I don’t take it, it will be one of the biggest mistakes of my life.”

It seemed rather dramatic, and so at the time, I did not fully understand what it meant. I already had an offer in hand from another strong school that other candidates might have readily accepted given its overall US News ranking. But, I was not a rankings-chaser.  What mattered most to me was the attitude and values of the people here who embodied the school’s motto — Law for the Community and the World. I felt at home. When the call came I knew my answer.

Today, there are continuous reminders for me that I made the right decision. For example, today a student emailed me. Not just any student, but a student from a class I taught last semester — Securities Regulation. We are halfway through the semester, we have all moved on to new courses, but he emailed because he happened to see that the Supreme Court today had issued opinions on two federal securities law cases. He spotted this in the morning, well before I did. There are other moments like that email, including when students plan inspiring events on cutting-edge legal issues, and when they stop by office hours just to confirm their understanding of a concept we covered in class. These are on par with a phone call I received from two students last February. I helped coach then for a regional transactional lawyering meet and they won first place and qualified for nationals. I still remember when I received the call on my cellphone. It was a cold winter night and the sky was clear. I was driving away from the school and I finally understood, really understood why saying yes to VLS was one of the best decisions of my life.

Jennifer TaubJennifer S. Taub,  Associate Professor of Law

View Faculty Profile