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O.C. Law School to Keep Its Ranking

Western State gets a temporary reprieve from judge,
who says the American Bar Assn. may not be following its own rules.

By Jeff Gottlieb
LA Times Staff Writer

February 7, 2004

A federal judge temporarily stopped the American Bar Assn. from stripping an Orange County law school of its all-important national accreditation Friday.

U.S. District Judge Gary L. Taylor agreed with attorneys for Western State University College of Law that there was evidence the ABA had not followed its own rules in moving to rescind the school's accreditation.

About 10 representatives from the school will attend the ABA House of Delegates meeting next week in San Antonio to make their case for ABA approval.

Taylor's preliminary injunction would allow the ABA to vote to pull Western State's provisional accreditation, but prevents the group from implementing the action.

Western State had earned the ABA's provisional accreditation, a step toward full approval. Two ABA committees have recommended that the school's accreditation be removed, which triggered Western State's lawsuit.

In his opinion, Taylor referred to the ABA's "apparent inconsistencies and potentially unreasonable interpretations" involving the accreditation process and said it "may be failing to follow its own rules."

"We essentially got what we wanted out of this," said Don Daucher, Western State's attorney.

Western has argued that the ABA is hostile to for-profit law schools. The ABA signed a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice in 1996 agreeing not to prevent for-profit schools from receiving accreditation.

Western received provisional accreditation in 1998, which usually leads to full approval within five years. The ABA committees that voted to pull the accreditation based their decisions on concerns about the number of students passing the bar exam, scores on the Law School Aptitude Test and the dropout rate.

The law school acknowledges the problems but says it has improved since Education Management Corp. bought it two years ago.

Law school wins temporary reprieve
Western State University College of Law is seeking to keep the ABA from stripping it of accreditation.

By MARLA JO FISHER
The Orange County Register
February 7, 2004

A federal judge issued a temporary reprieve Friday to Western State University College of Law, which is seeking to prevent the American Bar Association from stripping the school of its valuable ABA accreditation.

U.S. District Judge Gary L. Taylor ruled that the national bar association's House of Delegates could vote next week on whether the Fullerton-based college should lose its accreditation, but any adverse actions would be stayed until he considers the issue more fully.

ABA approval is important to law schools because it attracts top students, denotes higher quality and allows graduates to sit for bar exams in any state.

Western State is the oldest law school in Orange County and by one estimate has graduated about one-quarter of its lawyers.

"We achieved basically what we wanted," said Don Daucher, attorney for the law school, as he prepared to fly to the meeting in San Antonio. "We wanted to keep this from being effective next week."

Nancy Slonim, spokeswoman for the bar association, declined to comment on the ruling.

Western State, a for-profit school, won provisional ABA approval in 1998. Last year, committees that oversee legal education recommended WSU lose its accreditation because bar pass rates and test scores had dropped and dropout rates had risen.

Attorneys for WSU asked for a federal injunction preventing the action, arguing that the bar association is biased against for-profit law schools.

After two changes in ownership, the school is now owned by Education Management Corp., a publicly traded company based in Pittsburgh. Western State advocates argue that the new owners have recently improved quality.