Nicholas Targ


Whether an attorney should "blow the whistle" on a client's violation of environmental law is a question that is likely to confront attorneys with increasing frequency. While the regulation of pollution is not new, the criminalization of the violation is a relatively new development. Recognizing the impact of pollution on human health and the environment, Congress has passed a panoply of laws making certain unauthorized disposal and emission practices, and the failure to keep records of hazardous wastes felony offenses. This Article explores the ethics of disclosure within the context of environmental crimes by examining the following threshold questions: (1) what environmental laws are implicated by the client's actions, and (2) whether those actions reach criminal proportion. The Article explores the general conditions under which an attorney may breach an ethical duty of confidentiality and the policies supporting that duty. The Article advocates an interpretation of both the Model Code of Professional Responsibility and Model Rules of Professional Conduct that would permit reporting a client who is resolute in committing, or commits, an environmental crime which might seriously harm people if timely action is not taken. The Article concludes by providing suggestions on how an attorney should analyze the issue of disclosure of a client's violation and then applies this analysis to a hypothetical.