RESPONDING to the growing thicket of environmental suits and legislation, a Massachusetts state agency and two legal institutions are developing a training course for judges caught in the brush. Ever increasing state and federal regulations are forcing judges to become more expert on environmental issues, says William Futrell, president of the Environmental Law Institute (ELI). The institute will help develop the program. ``We have just had an explosion of environmental statutes,'' Mr. Futrell says. ``It's a highly complex mix of law and science and it is an area where Congress continues to legislate.''
The areas of greatest expansion in environmental laws includes hazardous-waste disposal, toxic-substance release, and oil-spill liability, says John Pendergrass, senior lawyer at ELI. An institute study concludes that over the last three years, 25 states have either passed new laws for hazardous waste cleanups or amended existing statutes.
Along with ELI, the Flaschner Judicial Institute of Boston - with a grant from the Jesse B. Cox Charitable Trust - and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) are also sponsoring the program.
Organizers say the program, the first of its kind in the country, will begin early next year.
In addition to the increase in legislation, stepped-up enforcement has flooded the courts with cases, says Andrew Savitz, general counsel for the DEA. Federal officials plan to double the number of FBI agents investigating environmental crime this year, Mr. Savitz says, and enforcement has also increased at the state level.
``In Massachusetts, the [state] attorney general's office has brought over 180 environment cases since '88 - and that's just in Massachusetts,'' Savitz says.
To keep up with the increasing attention to environmental issues, more law schools have developed environmental-law programs, particularly during the past six years, says Mr. Pendergrass says. ``We have seen estimates that the number of environmental lawyers today is 20,000,'' he says.
The idea of a training program for judges, however, is relatively new. The institute conducted a shorter and more informal program for federal judges in New England this spring. The organization also has offered training programs for more than 25,000 lawyers and environmental administrators over the years.
Suffolk Superior Court Judge John C. Cratsley, a member of the program-planning committee, sees a need to know about the history of environmental laws: ``I would like to know more about the policies behind these laws - why the legislature enacted them, why the folks who are in charge of protecting our environment went and got these laws through.''
Common court cases Judge Cratsley has seen involve cost-recovery for cleanups, and health-related claims involving toxic substances. He says he also hopes learn more about certain issues: ``Protection of wetlands seems to come up now more frequently and has some very technical material in it,'' he says.
Cratsley says he hopes the program will provide a book of key court decisions on environmental cases to use as a reference.
``What you have is an increasingly complex area of law,'' says John P. Driscoll, Jr., president-elect of the Boston Bar Association. ``It's important for judges if they have the time and the inclination and the willingness to get up to speed in what's changing in the areas of practice.''