On August 25, 2012, and with the help of an ELP travel grant, first year student Rosie Brady attended the Annual Laulima Conference, promoted by Keep Hawaii Beautiful and Keep America Beautiful, at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center. This year, the conference featured a discussion on environmental courts. Judge Larry Potter from Memphis, Tennessee spoke about the environmental court that he helped to create. Speakers from a number of local environmental groups discussed their perception of how an environmental court could benefit Hawaiʻi.
Judge Larry Potter spoke about the resistance that surrounded the idea of an environmental court in Memphis and how that resistance was overcome. Creating an environmental docket was the first step, and illustrated the need for a separate environmental court at no cost. In 1991, Judge Potter drafted an ordinance for the County of Memphis that directed money from the general fund of the state of Tennessee, collected from traffic fines, to create an environmental court. Once there was funding for the court, the resistance faded.
Judge Potter has presided over the environmental court since 1991. He oversees 40,000 cases a year. A common issue is that of cleaning up junk in yards. He stated that often times, fining people for such violations leads to increased property values and improved living conditions. When police investigate or cite someone for dumping garbage or for having too many inoperable vehicles on their property, other issues are often revealed, such as drug use or uninhabitable living conditions for children. The human rights element of environmental litigation is profound and the creation of an environmental court allows for expedient hearings to deal with issues that may never have been litigated or would take years to do so.
Also present were local speakers such as: Alice Greenwood from Nani O Waianae, Judge Michael Wilson of the First Circuit Court, Danny Mateo, Chairman of the Maui County Council, and Gil Keith-Agaran of the House Judiciary Committee. The argument for environmental courts is clear and is supported by those aware of its existence. We have mental health courts, drug courts, and family court, why not an environmental court? In Hawaiʻi our economy (i.e., tourism) is dependent upon our natural resources so we must value the protection of those resources. The resistance we face in developing an environmental court in Hawaiʻi is due to a lack of advocates in the judicial and the legislative branches of government. If we can expand on the tangible ways of implementing this court and remove the cost barriers, an environmental court is something that Hawaiʻi can look forward to utilizing. The law school can help with the first step by researching and outlining possible jurisdiction for such a court.
Rosie says, “[i]f more legislators see that an environmental court can pay for itself, there would be more initiative to institute one in Hawaiʻi.”
Pictured: Judge Larry Potter and Rosie Brady ’15.