Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Setback for Law School Clinics

The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting the unanimous decision of a three-judge panel of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, that "has denied the legal clinics of that state's public law schools immunity from its open-records law, exposing them to new document requests that could greatly complicate their work." The defendants in the case were Rutgers University and the Rutgers Environmental Law Clinic, part of the law school's well-regarded clinical program. The suit was brought by a "real-estate developer [Sussex Commons Associates] whose plans to build an outlet mall were successfully opposed by a citizens' group represented by the clinic." The attorneys for the developer "are seeking documents that .. will show that the owner of two existing outlet malls conspired with the citizens' groups and the clinic to thwart Sussex Commons's mall plans." At issue was New Jersey's Open Public Records Act, 47 N.J.S.A. 1A-1-1A-13, to which, according to the court, the legal clinics are subject as public institutions. Clinicians worry that short-staffed law school clinics will be drowned by discovery requests from law firms; most clinics do not have the resources to take on such requests, and having to comply with open-records laws might well result in clinics refusing to take on certain clients or cases. It sounds to me that New Jersey's law needs to be amended to make it clear that it is not meant to apply to the legal clinics at the state's two public law schools. It's hard to tell if that is feasible in today's political climate.

No comments: