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News Posted on March 8, 2011

Law Review Symposium Highlights 'Public Trust Doctrine: 30 Years Later'

Law Review Symposium 2011The 2011 UC Davis Law Review Symposium brought an overflow audience of legal practitioners, faculty, students, alumni, and staff to the Kalmanovitz Appellate Courtroom on March 4 for probing discussions of the "The Public Trust Doctrine: 30 Years Later."

The event was a reprise of a 1980 Law Review symposium that helped establish the public trust doctrine in environmental law in California and across the nation, explained Professor Richard Frank, symposium faculty adviser to the Law Review.  Several articles presented at that symposium and published in the Law Review were cited in the state Supreme Court's precedent-setting 1983 decision that preserved Mono Lake (National Audubon Society v. Superior Court), and this symposium offered an opportunity to "re-open the dialogue," Frank said.

"I am hopeful and confident that just as the 1980 public trust conference here had a direct and immediate effect on the public trust jurisprudence of the past 30 years, the commentary here today and the written scholarship that comes out of today's symposium will similarly influence and guide the development of public trust law in California and throughout the country in the decades to come," said Frank in his opening address.

The public trust doctrine is a legal principle with roots in Roman Law that holds that certain natural resources such as water, the banks of rivers, and ocean shorelines are not subject to private ownership and must be managed and preserved for public use.  It has played a significant-and controversial-role in environmental law, particularly with regard to water rights.  The doctrine has also come under attack from those who claim it enabled the government to violate their rights as property owners and water right holders.

About 200 attendees packed the Kalmanovitz Courtroom throughout the day to observe panel discussions featuring a broad range of outstanding scholars and practitioners, including:

  • "The Public Trust Doctrine: Adapting an Old Doctrine to New Concerns," featuring Professor Michael C. Blumm of Lewis & Clark Law School; Professor J. Peter Byrne, Director, Georgetown State-Federal Climate Resource Center, Georgetown University Law Center; Alexandra B. Klass, Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, University of Minnesota Law School; and Mary Christina Wood, Philip H. Knight Professor of Law and Faculty Director, Environmental and Natural Resources Law Program, University of Oregon School of Law; and moderated by John A. McKinsey '99, Partner, Stoel Rives LLP;
  • "A Practitioner's Perspective," featuring Hamilton Candee, Partner, Altshuler Berzon LLP; Martha Lennihan, Principal, Lennihan Law; Alan B. Lilly, Partner, Bartkiewicz, Kronick & Shanahan; Daniel J. O'Hanlon, Shareholder, Kronick Moskovitz Tiedemann & Girard; and Karrigan Börk, PhD Candidate, Ecology, UC Davis Department of Animal Science; with moderator Virginia Cahill '81;
  • "The Public Trust Doctrine and Water Interests in California," with Professor John D. Echeverria of Vermont Law School; Professor Brian E. Gray of UC Hastings College of the Law; David Owen, Associate Professor of Law, University of Maine School of Law, and Justice Ronald B. Robie of the California Court of Appeals, Third District; Barton H. Thompson, Jr., Perry L. McCarty Director, Woods Institute for the Environment and Robert E. Paradise Professor in Natural Resources Law, Stanford Law School; and moderated by Professor Christopher S. Elmendorf;
  • "Exploring the Legal Foundations of the Doctrine: Implications on the Future," with Professor William D. Araiza of Brooklyn Law School; James L. Huffman, Erskine Wood Sr. Professor of Law, Lewis & Clark Law School; and Professor Albert C. Lin, with moderator Professor Keith Aoki.

Closing remarks were delivered by Joseph Sax, the retired UC Berkeley Professor of Law often credited as spearheading the establishment of the public trust doctrine in American environmental law.  Sax spoke of the need for "transformation change" with regard to the application of the public trust doctrine similar to the legal changes that made women equal partners in marriages and those which established standards for wages and working conditions. 

"Those are the kinds of changes we need today," said Sax.  "My view is that rather than letting the now-conventional property rights approach of the current Supreme Court and many other courts dominate, what we should do is make a large, transformational change recognizing the scope of the environmental challenge."

Barbara Borkowsky '11, senior symposium editor, said the symposium was a rewarding experience for her as a student.  "The symposium allowed me to examine the real-life practical implications of some of the concepts I studied in the classroom," she said. "It was wonderful being able to discuss the public trust doctrine with some of the country's most influential environmental and property law scholars."

Borkowski said that the Law Review students would like to thank the Resources Legacy Fund; California Environmental Law & Policy Center; Dean Kevin R. Johnson, Associate Dean Vikram Amar, Senior Assistant Dean Adam Talley, Professor Richard Frank, and the UC Davis School of Law administration for their support; Madeleine Fischer, Debbie Hicks, Faye Veirs, and Gia Hellwig for their logistical help; Sam Sellers for the design of our publicity materials; Jason Aller for designing and updating our website; and Mark Hoffman and his entire technical support team.

"Public Trust Doctrine: 30 Years Later" video