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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

California Lawyers Want Recycled Briefs

Air Date: Week of

Steve talks with Debra Ream of the Sierra Club Legal Defense Club about a move to require attorneys in California to file their court papers on recycled paper, and to print some of their briefs on both sides of the page. The state's legal profession currently uses about 100,000 tons of paper a year.


CURWOOD: Lawyers are a political target this election season. Vice President Dan Quayle complains the legal profession is too quick to sue. Well, it appears the profession is also too quick to write -- or type, or print out, or however they get all that legalese on to all that paper. In fact, next to the Federal Government, the legal profession is the largest consumer of paper in the United States. Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund attorney Deborah Reames wants lawyers to change their wasteful ways, at least in California. She joins us now from member station KQED in San Francisco.

First off, Ms. Reames -- how much paper do lawyers use?

REAMES: Well, the American Bar Association estimates that lawyers use an average of one ton of paper each year -- that's per lawyer. In California alone this amounts to 100 thousand tons of paper annually. If you want to translate that into trees, if California lawyers are using virgin paper, we're cutting down nearly two million trees per year, just to meet the legal profession's paper needs in this state.

CURWOOD: Now what do you propose to change?

REAMES: Well, we propose to change the California rules of court in a manner that will affect all levels of California courts, from municipal courts to the Supreme Court, in three essential ways. First of all, we would require that all briefs, records and other papers filed with the courts would have to be printed on recycled paper beginning in six months. Secondly, after a five-year phase-in period,during which this would be optional, it would be required that all copies of papers filed with the court and served on opposing parties would be double-sided. And the third aspect of the rule change would require the courts to accept documents printed on unbleached paper.

CURWOOD: Whose idea was this? Who said, hey, wait a second, we're using all this paper, it really ought to be recycled?

REAMES: Actually it was my idea. I've been with the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund for sixteen years now, but in the last three years I've had a number of what I call my "garbage cases," cases involving incineration and landfilling and how to do that in an environmentally safe manner. And also cases involving recycling and waste reduction, I've become very aware of the magnitude of the crisis in California and I believe across the nation, in terms of the amount of garbage we produce and our dwindling landfill capacity. Nobody wants a landfill in their backyard. And I of course at the same time became aware of the contribution of my profession to this. Actually, in one of my recycling cases I requested that the Court allow me to file a 1500-page administrative record on two-sided copy and I was told no.

CURWOOD: In that case, how much paper did you use?

REAMES: Well, actually that wasn't one of our big paper cases at all. The actual litigation documents we filed, that were filed in that case were perhaps maybe one and a half file drawers of paper. However, the record in the case, when we went up to appeal, was about 1500 pages of paper and that was what, that disturbed me that that could not be two-sided.

CURWOOD: Your petition comes at a time when the recycling business in general, and the recycled paper business as well, is not seeing a lot of growth. Are you hoping it would stimulate that business?

REAMES: Very much so. Right now the recycling movement in California and all across the country is in big trouble. Citizens think that they're recycling as long as they're segregating glass and newspaper from their garbage and putting it out on their curb for pickup or taking it to a recycling center. And in order to close that loop, people have to start buying products made out of those recyclables. That's not happening in California, particularly not with paper, which makes up, a high-grade waste paper like this makes up ten percent of California's waste stream. So we're very much hoping that this is going to be a badly needed shot in the arm for the recycled paper industry and help create a market for that.

CURWOOD: Deborah Reames is an attorney for the Sierra Club Legal Defense fund. Her petition will be heard at the November meeting of the California Judicial Council. She spoke to us from KQED in San Francisco.



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