Environmental Law Clinic Co-Hosts Law Clinic in East Palestine

Students Emma Geesaman and Matthew Koutsky with organizers Damian Powell and Thomas Powell
From left to right: ELC Legal Intern Emma Geesaman and ELC Legal Intern Matthew Koutsky, River Valley Organizing organizers Damian Powell and Thomas Powell

Nearly three months after news broke that a train had derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, students in the Environmental Law Clinic at Case Western Reserve University School of Law held a free legal clinic in East Palestine. 

The clinic, in collaboration with River Valley Organizing, Community Legal Aid, Fair Shake Environmental Legal Services and the Ohio Environmental Council, aimed to answer resident questions. None of the organizations involved in the clinic benefited monetarily from the event, and aimed to provide community assistance and clear answers for residents who have heard confusing and sometimes conflicting information in the aftermath of the derailment. 

“We’re really trying to provide as much information as we can,” said Miranda Leppla, Director of the Environmental Law Clinic. “We saw a need for residents to get unbiased information about the different problems and legal issues they’re facing.” 

Attorneys and clinic interns answered various questions about the legal process and gave general advice, from discussing the difference between the class action and individual lawsuits and the suits filed by the Ohio Attorney General and Department of Justice, to providing guidance for residents regarding existing leases, recourse for property damage and ensuring residents document any changes or problems that have arisen since the derailment. 

"It was an invaluable experience to talk with affected residents, see the town in person and to work with our amazing partners who have been working on this issue,” said student Matthew Koutsky of his experience at the clinic. “Misinformation and rumors are running rampant as a result of the derailment and being able to go and help residents sort through their issues was incredibly rewarding. We hope to organize more clinics in the future to help address residents' evolving issues and concerns."

The Environmental Law Clinic aims to hold more clinics in East Palestine in the coming months as the class actions and other lawsuits move forward, citing the likelihood that residents will have further questions about legal proceedings as the cases evolve. 

“There needs to be a sustained effort to make sure that appropriate recourse is taken for all aspects of the derailment - from immediate property and environmental damage to any long-lasting environmental and health impacts,” said Leppla. “We need to be sure that the residents of the community and surrounding area are taken care of for the long-term.”