Current Issue

Student lawyers make their case

In March, Environmental Law Clinic students argued to ban shooting of prairie dogs for amusement. Photo: Steve Liss, Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Never say the student lawyers in the Environmental Law Clinic back down from a challenge.

In the spring semester, University of Denver Sturm College of Law students in the clinic made themselves felt, taking on energy giant Xcel, the Colorado Division of Wildlife and the federal government, all on behalf of clients seeking help with environmental issues.

“I guess that’s part of being a naive law student,” student lawyer Jamie Cotter says. “We’re not intimidated.”

In February, students challenged Xcel for the group Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action, contending the company is violating emissions and monitoring rules at a Denver power plant. The group’s director, Jeremy Nichols, says tackling such a large company is a big job, but by working with the students and the law clinic he is able to muster the resources his group needs.

Students do all the work in such cases, researching the law, crafting petitions and filings, and presenting them in court or commission hearings under the supervision of clinic Director Jay Tutchton and Lecturer Kay Bond.

In another action, students are working for Connecticut-based Friends of Animals, pressing the U.S. interior secretary to restrict trade in rare species of macaws and parrots. The new restrictions, Bond says, would make it harder for pet retailers to sell endangered birds by claiming they were born in captivity.

And on the environmental front closer to home, student attorneys fought for both the predator and the prey.

Jessica Torbin and Rebecca Wimmer in March convinced the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) to consider a petition banning the use of live animals for target shooting. Representing WildEarth Guardians, they argued before DOW commissioners that the practice of shooting prairie dogs for amusement and target practice violates state laws and offends the practices of ethical hunters.

The two presented graphic video and photo images of the killings, where scores of dead animals are left to rot, at a March 13 hearing. After two hours of questioning and opposing views from ranchers and hunters, commissioners agreed to accept the petition for further review.

Later in March, student attorneys Ben Kass, Josh Lanzetta and Kate Williams took another WildEarth Guardians fight to the feds, this time to challenge a National Park Service plan to cull elk from Rocky Mountain National Park. The students argued that the plan violates federal law by not considering the natural solution: reintroducing gray wolves to the park.

Kass, who spent 10 years working as an environmental advocate in Minnesota, says he came to DU specifically to study environmental law.

“It’s a lot of work,” he says of the clinic. “But it’s meaningful. Environmental law is the reason I came to DU.”

Torbin and Wimmer say they spent countless hours researching the petition and working with WildEarth Guardians, far more hours than they would have spent in a classroom for any other law class. But they agree the experience is worth the effort.

“This is a great way to work with real cases and real clients,” Torbin says. “It’s real-world experience.”

Comments are closed.