Jan. 27, 2012 -- A former prosecutor and two defense attorneys explored the issue of environmental crime Thursday in a symposium sponsored by the University of Houston Law Center.
The discussion, “Criminal Enforcement of Environmental Laws: What is the Current Climate?” dealt with one of the most relevant and controversial issues in today’s practice. The speakers explained the complexity of environmental law with causes of action ranging from administrative and civil to criminal.
The symposium, hosted by the Blakely Advocacy Institute and the Environment, Energy & Natural Resource Center, was moderated by UH Law Center Professor Tracy Hester, director of the EENR Center. Panelists were Charles A. De Monaco of Fox Rothschild LLP in Pittsburg, Pa., Joseph G. Block of Venable LLP in Washington, D.C., and George O. Wilkinson, Jr., of Vinson & Elkins LLP in Houston.
De Monaco was the primary prosecutor on the Exxon Valdez oil spill while he was an assistant chief of the Environmental Crimes Division of the Justice Department. He traced the events leading to the disaster and steps taken afterwards that resulted in criminal prosecution of the company and ship’s captain. He also detailed the number of state and federal agencies as well as independent parties that may become involved in investigating such an environmental accident.
Block, an environmental defense attorney, said environmental litigation is like walking into a murder scene and asking whether to proceed with criminal, civil, or administrative remedies. One of the jobs of the defense lawyer is to convince the judge that criminal charges are not the proper action to take against their client, he said. Because cases are so complex, and resources often limited, not all potential criminal charges are filed and the two sides often work together to sort out the issues and decide how best to proceed.
Wilkinson, who defends corporations and individuals under investigation or charged with violations of state and federal environmental laws, focused on the Clean Water Act and how the concept of “criminal intent” and “knowingly” are applied to various sections of the law.
The symposium was held in conjunction with the 2012 Andrews Kurth Moot Court National Championship, also co-sponsored by the Blakely Advocacy Institute.
-- Nick Floyd, 2L, special contributor to UHLC News