Cooley Takes ABA Back To Court

September 3, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDSThomasCooleyLawSchool has reopened its case against the American Bar Association for the ABA's failure to act on the applications of Cooley's two-year satellite programs in Rochester and Grand Rapids

The ABA Council declined to make a decision on the merit of the satellite campus applications during its review earlier this month, said Cooley President and Dean Don LeDuc, so Cooley is returning to court to challenge the ABA's "non-decision."

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan has retained jurisdiction over the case since Cooley filed suit March 30 seeking an injunction to prevent the ABA from any further delays in ruling on both satellite program applications.

Cooley launched two-year satellite programs at OaklandUniversity in Rochester in September 2002 and at WesternMichiganUniversity in Grand Rapids in May 2003 and has since been awaiting their accreditation. Cooley has been accredited since 1975.

Under an agreement reached in federal court in April, Cooley made a few concessions and the ABA agreed to a specific timetable to consider the satellite applications and conduct a substantive review of the programs. As part of the agreement, Cooley submitted additional information, answering a series of 16 questions posed by the ABA Accreditation Committee, one of which regarded bar exam results.

The Accreditation Committee considered the applications on June 25 and 26 and raised the issue of the bar results of recent graduates, LeDuc said. The ABA Council, which has the final say, considered the applications on Aug. 5 and 6.

Though the council declined to act on the applications, it did acknowledge that it had reviewed the applications.

"But instead of making a decision — yes or no — they simply said they declined to act, and the only reason they gave was because of the bar results from Lansing, which we think has absolutely nothing to do with the satellites," LeDuc added.

"When they come and do an inspection, they do look at bar results of graduates as one minor factor. Their instructions are to look at a three-year period. In this case, they didn't."

The ABA only looked at the bar results from February of this year and July 2003, LeDuc explained, adding that the February results weren't final because appeals were still pending. He said 34 other law schools had lower bar results than Cooley.

"Our argument is that they (bar results) have no relevance to this decision. The ABA didn't find that we violated anything, they just said they were concerned about it and that was enough not to act, which we think it's not. We also think that that really violates the agreement we entered into. Actually, all the substantive issues about the satellites went through flawlessly."

LeDuc said once the ABA gets a chance to respond, he expects the court will want to move the case along rather rapidly and, hopefully, have a decision in early November.

"Early November is sort of our decision time for January. We could do it later than that, but it would be very difficult because of new registration."

As part of the agreement reached in April, Cooley agreed to voluntarily limit the number of credits students can take in the satellite programs to 15 and further agreed not to start any other satellites without prior acquiescence from the ABA. Those terms will remain in place for the time being, LeDuc said.

He said that students in both the Grand Rapids and Rochester satellite programs have been understanding in the interim.

"They know we've been under the gun and waiting for a decision. I've not heard any rumblings. If there are students sitting there fretting about this, they haven't made it known to me."

Nancy Slonim, director of national media services for the ABA, said she couldn't give an "illuminating response" as to why the ABA Council declined to make a decision one way or another and noted that she was unable to respond to questions regarding the suit.

"All I am able to tell you is that Cooley is a fully approved law school," Slonim said. "Accreditation matters are confidential under ABA rules. With respect to litigation, the ABA's posture is typically to express itself in its pleadings and not to go beyond our formal pleading documents."    

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