O.C. Law School to Drop Its ABA Suit

Under a deal, Western State will give up its provisional accreditation in August but could get it back by February.

By Jeff Gottlieb
Times Staff Writer

May 25, 2004

Western State University College of Law, a for-profit school whose graduates include one-quarter of Orange County's judges and court commissioners, announced Monday that it will give up its provisional accreditation with the American Bar Assn. in August and drop a lawsuit against the organization.

In exchange, the ABA has agreed to speed up the normal process for reconsideration and could decide to restore the school's provisional accreditation in February. ABA accreditation is a mark of prestige and entitles graduates to take the bar exam in any state.

"I think it's probably the very best we could do for our students," said Maryann Jones, Western State's acting dean.

The controversy has badly hurt the law school, especially when it comes to attracting new students.

"It's been absolutely heartbreaking that we are at this enormous recruiting deficit because of our accreditation issues with the ABA," Jones said.

She expects that the entering class will have about half the 203 students who started last year, a number that dropped by 30 after the law school sent a letter to students detailing the problems.

Nationwide, 181 law schools have full ABA accreditation and five have provisional accreditation. One for-profit school other than Western State is accredited.

Western received provisional approval from the ABA in 1998, which usually leads to full accreditation in five years.

Last year, two ABA committees recommended that Western State lose its accreditation, citing its low Law School Admission Test scores, the high number of dropouts and its graduates' low bar exam success rate.

The law school acknowledged there were problems, but said it has improved since Education Management Corp. bought it two years ago. Western State sued to keep its provisional accreditation, and in February a federal judge in Santa Ana granted a preliminary injunction that prevented the ABA from revoking it.

Nancy Slonim, an ABA spokeswoman, has said that no one at the Chicago-based organization could recall any other school losing its provisional accreditation.

As part of the deal to settle the lawsuit, Western agreed to give up its provisional approval Aug. 7, after its class graduates Aug. 5. The ABA has agreed to a speeded up process that could allow Western again to regain its provisional approval in February, but there are no guarantees, said Don Daucher, the law school's attorney.

He said that to meet that timetable, an ABA evaluation team of deans, lawyers, professors and a librarian would have to visit campus in late September or early October.

Daucher said that if Western is granted accreditation, it would come in May, in time for its largest batch of graduates.