Law and Order: Q&A – Jeremy F. Korzenik ‘70

Andie Goldmacher, Staff Writer

The Record: What kinds of cases do you work with? What are some examples of cases you’ve worked on in the past?

Jeremy Korzenik:  In the BP spill in the Gulf Coast, millions of gallons of petroleum, or crude oil, was spilled into the Gulf Coast, which created millions of dollars of liability for the company and killed many different species. When deciding between civil and criminal cases, you have to think of willfulness-did the company intend to hurt the species? What are the motives? Did the company want to kill 11 of their own employees and blow up millions of dollars of oil they wanted to sell? By criminalizing conduct, you create consequence and deterrence, if one company was hung high for a certain issue, other companies will be more careful. The consequence of BP’s negligence was a consequence of their own deterrence. The most difficult thing to do is to draw the line between civil and criminal. The first cases I dealt with were repeat violations, companies dumping pollution into the waters of New Hampshire. The way it used to be handled in New Hampshire was if you want to get rid of something, you throw it in the river. We recognized we couldn’t continue to do that, so we passed laws prohibiting conduct that was perfectly legal, then we provided criminal sanctions for that conduct. This is a different kind of law that is generally covered by criminal law. Civil enforcement did not stop you, so now we are bringing out the big guns and going criminal.

TR: What was your most challenging part of being the General Attorney at the Offices, Boards, and Divisions in Washington D.C.?

JK: We do investigations on the civil and criminal divisions from a large agency. The statutes violated may not always be environmental. For example, if you have false lab reports where you show your plant is in compliance with the requirements of the Clean Water Act, but it’s not. Environmental statutes have both civil and criminal sanctions. My section tries to make distinctions between civil and criminal cases. My position is to try to sort out when to put someone in jail. The most challenging part is to exercise judgment to decide on the difference between criminal and civil judgement. The next challenge is to decide who is the most responsible. Is it the company, the businessman..?

TR: How do you think the US’ views towards environmental issues have changed over the past 50 years, if at all?

JK: Vastly. There has been conduct that was perfectly legal that no longer is, but you could only get those laws passed if there is a change is consciousness. People thought nothing of throwing litter and cigarette butts out of their car, dumping things into the river, or burning garbage. People don’t do that anymore, as they have a consciousness of what they are doing on a global scale, especially with climate change. A sense of vulnerability has caused federal government to be able pass laws about the environment. So, you have to change consciousness before you change the law. There have been many Earth Days at Horace Mann that changed consciousness. The Clean Water Act didn’t come in until the early 70s and 80s. The first case under the Clean Water Act that I presented was civil, and the first criminal case was about a demolition degree hauler from Boston up to a landfill in Maine that regulated diesel fuel and found areas on wetlands to dump loads of waste.

TR: How did Horace Mann prepare you for your career?

JK:  At the high school level, education is general and less specific about environmental law, but Horace Mann was superb in developing one’s capacity for critical thinking. An essence of great education is to think critically and reach conclusions based upon evidence but continue to be open to arguments that might contradict or modify your conclusion. Horace Mann taught me how to read critically, to think critically, to argue a point, to marshal evidence, and to explain what I was thinking. Horace Mann helped me think of what the right questions are and to find evidence to support them.