By Al Kamen
Monday, June 14, 2004; Page A15
Lawyers at mega-firm Perkins Coie are warning polluter clients that "over the next few months" they "should anticipate increasing federal environmental enforcement. We have already seen increasing numbers of federal and state criminal investigations," the firm's environmental group said in a May 27 e-mail ominously titled: "The Knock at the Door: Are You Ready?"
Word of a pending federal crackdown stunned enviros. Sierra Club political director Greg Haegele just laughed at the notion. Natural Resources Defense Council advocacy director Gregory Wetstone allowed as how federal enforcement of the laws truly "would be news" but "maybe they [Perkins Coie] know something we don't."
Indeed, Tom E. Lindley, a partner in the firm's Portland, Ore., office, cites anecdotal evidence from firm lawyers, five criminal investigations that suddenly popped up in the West -- after two years with none recorded -- and informal chats with Environmental Protection Agency officials as underlying reasons for the alert.
In the e-mail, Perkins Coie also notes that "the press will be looking for stories on environmental concerns. Are you ready if a reporter, agency official or officer with a warrant shows up at your door?" One thing is certain, the firm adds, "no matter who it is -- you have very little time."
And the advice offered is quite sound. For example: "Write down and memorize important responses" to avoid misunderstanding, misquotation or a garbled message.
"Responding 'No Comment' is a No-No. A 'no comment' response is usually portrayed very negatively by the media." (Actually, it's like tossing chum to sharks.) "There are better alternatives," the firm says, such as:
• "I cannot comment on that now, but I will have plenty to say later."
• "I'm here today to talk about the spill and our successful cleanup, not other topics or unfounded allegations."
• "We will respond to that question at the appropriate time." (That could be a long time coming.)
One thing they forgot: When you answer the door, there might be cameras, so make sure you're fully clothed. And don't forget to blame others, such as a few disgruntled employees or cumbersome federal regulations, for the mess.
Now, if your visitor is some guy with a gun and a search or arrest warrant, the "rules change in some important areas." No kidding. "The agency is not your friend here," the lawyers advise, and "your time is very limited. Assemble your defense team immediately." (And fire your Washington lobbyist.)
The rules are pretty straightforward: "Do not obstruct, but also do not freely convey information," the lawyers advise, and "take detailed notes of documents taken." (Granted, hard to do when you've "assumed the position," spread-eagled against the wall, but they're right that you should try.)
As good as the Perkins Coie advice is, Loop Fans know there are additional tips.
For example, demand to be cuffed in front of your body, not behind. That way you can cover the cuffs with your suit jacket and then lift the jacket up to hide your face. If that's not possible, ask your spouse which is your best side and turn that to the cameras.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company