March 30, 2004
DETROIT (AP) -- The nation's largest law program has filed suit against the American Bar Association, claiming the group is unfairly delaying accreditation of its new satellite programs even though they meet ABA standards.
The Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing is seeking an injunction preventing the ABA, the nation's largest professional organization of lawyers, from continuing to block accreditation of satellite programs the school has set up at Oakland and Western Michigan universities.
The school also is asking that its applications for full branch operations at those sites be fairly and properly reviewed. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, also seeks unspecified damages.
"These are solid programs that have the support of two leading universities and have received a positive reaction from the communities in which they are located," Cooley President Dean Don LeDuc said in a statement Tuesday. "The ABA needs to do its part to make sure that a legal education is accessible to not only those able to pursue a traditional three-year program, but also to men and women who have family, work and other real-word responsibilities."
The Oakland University program was set up in September 2002 while the Western Michigan program was launched in May 2003. Together, they serve 180 students in communities Cooley officials say have no other legal education program.
"Although we have not seen the complaint, and cannot comment on specifics, we believe the ABA's accreditation process is fair and is designed to protect both law students and the public by assuring lawyers are well educated to carry out their responsibility in representing their clients," Dennis W. Archer, the ABA's president, said in a statement.
Cooley said in a statement released Tuesday that before either program opened, the school asked the ABA accrediting committee and council for acquiescence -- a term the ABA applies to approval of satellite programs. Site reviews were highly favorable to the new Cooley programs, school officials said.
But the ABA's Council of the Legal Education Section of the Bar, along with another committee, has blocked acquiescence of the programs for more than 21 months "through an array of procedural maneuvers," Cooley's statement said.
Cooley, which has more than 2,100 students at its main campus in Lansing, said delaying approval of the programs denies students enrolled in the satellite programs the opportunity to work in the legal profession.