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The Inner Circle / Spring 2016


>> Aiming High: The ENRLC
>> Outspoken Environmental Advocate
>> Soldiers on the Home Front
>> New Leaders' Circle Member


Letter from the Chair of the Board of Trustees

Chris Dutton, Chair, VLS Board of Trustees

Dear members of the Leaders' Circle and President's Society,

I hope you all are enjoying spring. It has arrived early in Vermont where the sugaring season is already winding down.

The season brings good signs of progress at VLS:

The US News & World Report 2016-17 ranking came out this March; I’m pleased to report that VLS is again number one in environmental law. The ranking simply recognizes the reality that VLS—with over 60 courses in the ever-growing field of environmental and climate law and policy—has the broadest and deepest curriculum in the country, if not the world. The ranking is significant for the obvious benefits to enrollment and reputation, but also because it means we have maintained our hegemony under a new ranking system US News initiated last year.

We brought in a new, large grant for the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems (CAFS). CAFS has continued its excellent fundraising record by securing a new grant from the GRACE Foundation to support the continued operation and expansion of the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems through 2019. The GRACE Foundation fully funded VLS's request, and informed us that their board is excited by CAFS’s innovative work marrying the law with legal design and technology to effect change. In addition to supporting the current faculty and staff at the Center, the funds will be used to expand the Food and Agriculture Clinic by adding a new professor and improving administration with the addition of a new program officer for management

The 2016-17 Admissions cycle is still in its early stages, but indications are that we could again see an increase in both the JD and Masters fall enrollment. At this point, we especially want to see inquiries, and we’re getting them: JD inquires are up 12% over last year, LLM up 9% and Masters up 30%. We are bringing on an additional admissions staff member to respond to the increased inquiry traffic, since the current staff cannot keep up. We’ll see whether these positive inquiry trends convert to applications and enrollment. The quality of applicants is higher than it was last year. Campus visits have increased, as well.

I recently returned from a most interesting trip to China, accompanying the director and staff of our Asia Partnership program. The program works in China, Myanmar and may expand to Vietnam and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. We have formed alliances with Chinese law schools and promoted student and faculty exchanges around the key issue of climate and environment. During this trip, we met with the U.S. Ambassador, university presidents, and law school deans from seven law schools in Beijing, Kunming, and Chongqing. The enthusiasm for VLS, and for sending students to us was universally high. One university alone intends to send us 10 students for two to three terms this summer.

I wish you productive and energizing months ahead as we move into this new season.

Very best,

Marc Mihaly signature white

Marc B. Mihaly, President and Dean

Determined to Aim High: The Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic

Inner Circle David MearsWhether it’s fighting a railroad in Montana, a developer in Maine or a federal agency, the VLS Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic (ENRLC) is somewhat like its clients: small, but determined and aiming high.

An in-house clinic that functions as a public-interest law office, the ENRLC makes an impact around the country by providing pro bono legal representation in cases that often reflect national trends.

Students involved in the ENRLC work with local community groups and leading state and national conservation organizations on cases that involve pollution, climate change and other issues. “We’re part of the national conversation with those groups, and we determine how actions we can take might support their overall goals,” ENRLC Director David Mears JD/MSL'91 says.

Not all clinic clients want to pursue litigation. Students work as problem-solvers to provide other possible approaches, such as petitioning an agency to take action or explaining to clients the legal context of a media campaign.

“We work with clients to help them understand ways they can influence the process before they go to court,” Mears says.

The clinic currently is representing neighbors opposed to a granite-crushing operation in Graniteville, Vermont. After several court hearings and appeals, the clinic recently filed briefs with the Vermont Supreme Court, which will hear arguments later this year.

“It’s tough to give citizens a voice in legal processes,” Mears says. “What I feel best about is that we give these clients a voice that would otherwise be shut out.”

VLS students gain invaluable hands-on experience, too, in the process. “It gives them a set of skills for a leg up in the job market,” Mears says. “We treat them as we would associate attorneys at a law firm. What they get out of that is a chance to receive feedback.”

Outspoken Environmental Advocate to Speak at Commencement

An excerpt from the official Vermont Law School press release, Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Gina McCarthy of the EPAU.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy will deliver the 41st Commencement address at Vermont Law School on Saturday, May 21, President and Dean Marc Mihaly announced today.

"I am pleased to announce that EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy will be Vermont Law School's 2016 commencement speaker," Mihaly said. "Administrator McCarthy is a champion for the environment and for the public health, recognized for her commitment and practical, common-sense approach to critical issues ranging from clean water and energy to the urgent need to act on climate change. She is a dedicated leader, an inspiration to students across the country and to many among the students, faculty and staff at Vermont Law School. We look forward to welcoming Administrator McCarthy to our campus."

McCarthy was appointed EPA administrator in 2013 and assistant administrator for the EPA Office of Air and Radiation in 2009. She previously served as commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. She has over 30 years of environmental experience at the federal, state and local levels, shepherding policies related to economic growth, energy, and transportation.

McCarthy earned a bachelor's degree in social anthropology from the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and a joint master's degree in environmental health engineering and planning and policy from Tufts University.

The 41st Commencement Ceremonies at Vermont Law School will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 21, on the South Royalton Village Green. Candidates will be presented for juris doctor (JD), master of laws (LLM), and master's degrees. For more information about commencement, visit

Soldiers on the Home Front: Stephen Dycus

VLS student studyingU.S. history has many examples of domestic military involvement: breaking strikes in the 1800s, interning Japanese Americans during World War II, compiling personal information on Vietnam War protesters.

President Andrew Jackson even declared martial law in New Orleans in 1814 to defend against a British invasion.

Could the U.S. military go to those lengths today? That question is probed in a new book, “Soldiers on the Home Front—The Domestic Role of the American Military,” by Vermont Law School professor Stephen Dycus and William C. Banks.

“It’s a love-hate story. Americans have always had a relationship with the military that is one of dependence because we count on soldiers to help us out when we get in a jam,” Dycus says. “On the other hand, we don’t want soldiers around anywhere at other times. They’re trained to do a particular job, to use force to defend the nation. They’re not trained the same way cops are to enforce the law or protect civil liberties.”

Unlike in other countries, the U.S. military has never taken over the government.

“What has happened, however, is that sometimes civilian leaders in this country have used the military to do things that are illegal or unconstitutional, and they’ve generally done it in times of crisis,” says Dycus, a national-security law expert.

After 9/11, the government acted to increase the military’s role in internal security and intelligence collection. The military imprisoned three people in the U.S. without charges and/or trial for several years.

“The government used military necessity as a pretext for holding these individuals…by creating this kind of nether status—enemy combatant—to allow them to be held indefinitely without trial and charges because they were terror suspects,” Dycus says.

One detainee, a U.S. citizen, eventually was deported to Saudi Arabia. The other two were convicted of minor offenses in civilian courts and are serving prison terms in the U.S.

In 2011, Congress passed a measure allowing the military to hold terror suspects in the U.S without charges and trial. “That law has been tested, but there’s been no judicial decision squarely answering the constitutionality of it,” Dycus says. “President Obama signed it and said he would never enforce it against a U.S. citizen, but the next president might.”

Americans should be alert to potential civil liberty violations from military involvement in civilian affairs.

“The precedent set by these actions, now enshrined in this 2011 legislation, is one that we should be concerned about,” Dycus says.

How far could it go? “That’s the question,” he notes.

Dycus is lead author of “National Security Law,” the field’s leading casebook, and of “Counterterrorism Law.” Both books have some overlapping themes with the new book.

Dycus praises the military for keeping Americans safe—and free.

“The new book celebrates the military, but it’s also a cautionary tale,” he says. “It has the message that we need to think carefully about our relationship with our military, and most of all it’s a plea to be as clear as the laws will allow about how and when we want the military involved in civilian affairs.”

Member Profile: James Ostendorf JD'13

James OstendorfAfter graduating magna cum laude from the University of Pittsburgh with bachelors' degrees in Political Science, History, Geology and Planetary Science, James applied for admission to—and visited—a total of 17 law schools. What he found at 16 of the schools was discouraging: “All the students looked like the sky was falling, and they were clearly unhappy.” It was a different story at VLS. “The students were engaged and smiling and they were enthusiastic about their studies.”

Describing his VLS education as “top-notch,” James explained how his original desire to practice environmental law rapidly evolved. “I found out quickly that what I wanted to do most was to litigate cases in the courtroom.” He recognized the opportunities available to students through the school’s close relationship to the Vermont Bar Association. “VLS students find opportunities to learn how to practice law: it could be as an intern in the AG’s office, an externship in the Supreme Court, or working for a non-profit.”

At the suggestion of Associate Dean Shirley Jefferson JD'86, James became involved in the American Inns of Court (AIC), a non-partisan association that fosters mentoring relationships for its members—from fledgling law students to supreme court justices, federal and state judges, and law firms large and small. According to James, the AIC changed the direction of his career: “My first experience there was to meet a Chief Justice. Every job and internship that I’ve gotten is because connections made through the AIC.”

James now works as a Senior Associate at John Postl, the Boston firm that acquired the New England Law Group of which he was a founding member. He specializes in complex civil litigation, military law, and veterans appeals while also serving as a Public Arbitrator for the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.

Although he is a recent graduate with significant student loans, James didn’t hesitate to join the Leaders’ Circle. “If you have the resources to support the school at the Leaders’ Circle level you should. You owe it yourself and the school to give back to the very place that made your successes possible. I want to help current students enjoy the same education that I had by making sure the school has the resources to help today.”

When asked about his future career plans, James doesn’t hesitate: “I like building things. I want to be involved in building a firm, and make partner. I’d like to be a judge someday, too.” According to Career Services Abby Armstrong JD’84, “James always had a clear idea of what he wanted to do and he went for it. If he’s aiming his sights as partner at a firm, he’ll get there. And I have no doubt that someday we will refer to him as ‘The Honorable Judge Ostendorf.’”

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The Leaders' Circle continues to grow!

The following people have joined or renewed their membership in the Leaders' Circle since the winter of 2016:

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  • Joan Sarles Lee ’80
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