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Stanford Law School Appoints Deborah Sivas as the Inaugural Luke W. Cole Professor of Environmental Law and Director of the Environmental Law Clinic

Publication Date: 
October 30, 2009
Stanford Law School

STANFORD, Calif., October 30, 2009—Stanford Law School has announced the appointment of Deborah A. Sivas as the inaugural Luke W. Cole Professor of Environmental Law and Director of the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic. Professor Sivas has been director of the highly regarded clinic since 1997, teaching students how to provide legal counsel to dozens of national, regional, and grassroots nonprofit organizations on a variety of environmental issues.

The Luke W. Cole professorship was endowed by John and Marsha Kleinheinz to honor their friend Luke Cole, a noted environmental lawyer who was among the first to build legal bridges between the environmental movement and the civil rights movement, and who died at age 46 in Uganda. The endowed professorship will enable Stanford Law School to continue its deep commitment to the advancement of clinical education and promote scholarship and teaching in public interest law.

"Being named the first holder of the Luke Cole chair is especially meaningful for me," said Deborah Sivas. "Luke was a contemporary and a colleague whose advocacy on behalf of underserved communities was truly pathbreaking and whose vision of environmental and social justice continues to be so inspiring to all of us who knew him."

"I think Luke would be pleased to know that a gift in his memory will help train and prepare a new generation of lawyers to carry the flame of environmental justice that he lit and kept burning for so many years," she said.

Sivas's Leadership

A leading environmental litigator, Deborah A. Sivas oversees students in their advocacy work and provides instruction to students on effective litigation, client representation, professional ethics, and environmental law and policy. Over the past twelve years she has built the Environmental Law Clinic of the Mills Legal Clinic at Stanford Law School into a thriving classroom for many Stanford Law graduates who have gone on to work for government agencies, private firms, and nongovernmental organizations in the field of environmental law.

“Deborah Sivas is a wonderful colleague, lawyer, and clinical teacher,” said Lawrence Marshall, Professor of Law, David and Stephanie Mills Director of Clinical Education, and Associate Dean for Public Interest and Clinical Education. “She has inspired hundreds of students with her passion for working on behalf of the environment and has educated hundreds of students through her close mentoring and commitment to teaching them to think and act like lawyers.”

Sivas’s recent litigation successes include challenging the Bush administration’s gas mileage standards for SUVs and light trucks and holding the EPA accountable for regulating the discharge of invasive species in ship ballast water. Her current research is focused on the interaction of law and science in the arena of climate change and coastal/marine policy and on good governance mechanisms that will better promote transparency and accountability in environmental policymaking.

"Luke Cole was a pioneering figure in the movement for environmental justice,” said Larry Kramer, Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and Dean. “We feel a keen sense of responsibility, as well as honor, in accepting a chair in his name. Fortunately, there is no better person than Deborah Sivas to live up to the high standard Luke set, and her work will contribute greatly to advancing environmental safety and training generations of lawyers capable of carrying what they learn here into the world outside the university."

Prior to assuming the clinic directorship, Professor Sivas was a partner at Gunther, Sivas & Walthall, an attorney with Earthjustice (formerly Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund), an associate in the environmental practice group at Heller Ehrman, and a law clerk to Judge Judith N. Keep of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. She currently chairs the board of directors for the Turtle Island Restoration Network. In recognition of her work on behalf of the environment, California Lawyer magazine named Professor Sivas one of its 2008 Attorneys of the Year. She earned her JD at Stanford Law School in 1987.

The Luke W. Cole Professorship and Directorship of the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic

With the establishment of the Luke W. Cole Professorship and Directorship of the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic, Stanford Law School and the generous donors John Kleinheinz (BA ’84) and Marsha Kleinheinz honor the work and dedication to public service that Luke W. Cole (BA '85) demonstrated throughout his career in environmental advocacy.

Luke was born on July 15, 1962, in North Adams, Massachusetts, and raised in New York, Nigeria, and Santa Barbara. He graduated from Stanford with honors in 1984. He was the executive director and founder (with Ralph Abascal) of the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, an environmental justice litigation organization based in Northern California that is known for its community-led style of litigation. Among his many accomplishments, Luke was the co-founder and editor emeritus of the journal Race, Poverty & the Environment. He co-authored a book (with Sheila Foster), From the Ground Up: Environmental Racism and the Rise of the Environmental Justice Movement, and published numerous scholarly articles. He also taught environmental justice at Stanford Law School, UC Berkeley School of Law, and UC Hastings College of the Law.

From 1996 to 2000, he served on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's National Environmental Justice Advisory Council. In 1997, American Lawyer magazine named him one of the top lawyers "whose vision and commitment are changing lives.” That same year, Berkeley’s Ecology Law Quarterly honored Luke with its Environmental Leadership Award for "outstanding contributions to the development of environmental law and policy." The American Bar Association’s Barrister magazine also selected Luke as one of twenty lawyers “making a difference" for his groundbreaking legal work.

Luke died in a car accident in June 2009 while on vacation in Uganda.

“Those of us who work in this area will sorely miss – already do sorely miss – Luke’s steady presence, his pioneering leadership, and his tireless efforts on behalf of both individual clients and the larger environmental justice movement,” Sivas said. “Thanks to the generosity of the Kleinheniz family, we can honor Luke’s accomplishments and legacy by preparing future lawyers to take up his life’s work.”

About Stanford Law School

Stanford Law School is one of the nation's leading institutions for legal scholarship and education. Its alumni are among the most influential decision makers in law, politics, business, and high technology. Faculty members argue before the Supreme Court, testify before Congress, and write books and articles for academic audiences, as well as the popular press. Along with offering the traditional law school classes, the school has embraced new subjects and new ways of teaching. The school's home page is located at



Judith Romero
Associate Director of Media Relations
Stanford Law School
650 723.2232