Alan and Kristin Hudson, fourth generation Maryland chicken farmers, want to know why tax-supported law students should be allowed to represent environmental groups while they must hire their own attorney.
The Waterkeeper Alliance and the Assateague Coastkeeper are suing Hudson’s chicken farm for allegedly polluting a ditch that drains into the Pocomoke River.
Students at the University of Maryland Law School, which gets 30 percent of its annual $46 million budget from state taxpayers, represent the environmental groups.
Hudson’s raises 80,000 chickens at a time for Perdue Farms, which is also being sued. As an independent contractor to Perdue, the Eastern Shore farm is paying for its own defense against the tax-supported lawsuit.
And the family farm may not survive the legal assault.
All of which has Maryland lawmakers wondering if maybe they should equalize the sides a bit by withholding money from the law school until it sees the error of its ways.
State Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, D-Charles County, wants to know why the law school is using state taxpayer resources to sue a “struggling farmer.” Middleton and 34 other senators want the law school clinic to turn its client list and expenditures over and indicated they will withhold $250,000 from the university if it fails to comply.
A similar measure in the Maryland House would withhold $500,000 from the law school clinic.
The law school has its backers as well. State Sen. Delores G. Kelley, D-Baltimore; said lawmakers would “make our law school the laughingstock of higher education.”
When Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson sued over poultry litter pollution in the Illinois River Basin, he opted to sue only the major players in the poultry industry, not the individual chicken farmers who raise birds under contracts with the brand name companies.
In Maryland, however, the law students sued both Hudson family and Perdue Farms, the company they contract with.
Jim Perdue, Perdue Farms chairman, was quoted telling Maryland lawmakers that the lawsuit was “one of the greatest threats to the family farm in the last 50 years.”
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said individual farmers cannot defend themselves against “deep pocket” litigation. He said it pits “academic freedom” against “bankrupting a farmer.”
The 400-acre Hudson farm has been in the family for more than 100 years.