first_img June 1, 2002 Jan Pudlow Associate Editor Regular News Court rules against Barry U. 111 graduates denied chance to become Florida lawyers Court rules against Barry U. Associate Editor Refusing to second-guess the ABA or bend the Rules Relating to Admissions to the Bar, the Florida Supreme Court denied Barry University School of Law’s petition to release exam results impounded during a protracted ABA accreditation process.The May 16 ruling dealt a devastating blow to 111 Barry law students who graduated in January, June, and July 2000 and January 2001 — more than 12 months earlier than the ABA’s February 4, 2002, decision to grant Barry provisional accreditation, and therefore in violation of Rule 2-11.1.Barry law school Dean Stanley Talcott said he is working with ABA officials to see what help, if any, the school can offer graduates caught in legal career limbo with a legal education but no way to practice law in Florida.“I’m disappointed, indescribably so, dejected, and all of the other adjectives. And surprised, quite frankly, given the Supreme Court had accommodated the situation previously during the process,” said Scott Blaue, who graduated third in his class, served as editor-in-chief of law review, and took the bar exam in July 2000 only to have the results impounded forever.The 35-year-old husband and father of three works as a law clerk while he dreams of being a licensed lawyer some day. He is also a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against the ABA, challenging the fairness of the accreditation process.The pending lawsuit, he said wryly, “was certainly not mooted by this decision.”In Barry’s petition, Holland & Knight lawyers former Justice Stephen H. Grimes and Lucinda A. Hofmann noted the human price with budding legal careers hanging in the balance:“If this court does not grant the requested relief, 111 graduates of a currently accredited law school will not be permitted to practice in Florida. At best, these graduates can sit for the bar examination in a state that does not require graduation from an ABA accredited law school, practice there for 10 years, and then, if still desirous of practicing in Florida, seek admission under Rule 2-11.2.”But the court showed little sympathy for affected Barry graduates, stressing the rule is the rule, and the rule is clear.“We note that all students who enrolled at Barry University while it was unaccredited were on notice of the risk in attending an unaccredited law school when they began their studies at Barry University. Furthermore, each of our prior orders allowing Barry University students to sit for the bar exam was contingent on the law school obtaining provisional accreditation within 12 months of these students’ graduations,” said the unanimous court decision in Case No. SC02-740 (with Justice R. Fred Lewis recused).The court held firm to enforcing Rule 2-11.1, which requires that graduation occur within 12 months of accreditation. Barry had argued that the fairest date to start that clock ticking is the fall of 2000, when Barry received a favorable site visit that became the later basis for ABA accreditation. But the Florida Board of Bar Examiners countered that the 12-month rule is set by the actual February 2002 ABA accreditation decision and adhering to that rule is important in maintaining a consistent and fair process.In its petition, Barry insisted it was not asking for a waiver of the rules.But the high court disagreed.“A waiver is essentially what Barry University is asking this court to provide by allowing those students who graduated more than 12 months before the time that actual accreditation was granted to be considered for admission to The Florida Bar. Further, although Barry University claims that it is not asking this court to ‘second-guess the ABA or to determine that it erred,’ in fact by its request, Barry University would have this court go behind the ABA’s multitiered process of decision making and reach a determination that the ABA erred by not granting provisional accreditation in February 2001. Barry University’s request would have this court return to its pre- Hale [ Florida Board of Bar Examiners In re Hale, 433 So. 2d 969, 971 (Fla. 1983)] days where the court granted and denied waivers on a case-by-case basis.”As director of institutional advancement at Barry law school, it was Eric DuBois’s job to deliver a copy of the order to Dean Talcott and other school officials as soon as the May 16 opinion was released.“Their reaction was devastation,” said DuBois, who took the news personally as a June 2000 Barry law graduate with $100,000 racked up in student loans.“The hardest part as an alum is here I sat next to a lot of the students who are OK to take the bar exam, and studied with them for exams. The only difference was they took one class, or turned in a paper, after I did. And they can practice law and I can’t,” DuBois said.“It kind of makes me wonder if I want to join the Bar knowing that as a graduate of this school, we weren’t wanted. If you want us, want us. I did everything I thought I was supposed to do. I applied for the bar exam, I did my education in four years. And I would put the education I received up against any other school in the state.”Dean Talcott said he feels graduates’ pain and wants to see what he can do to help.“An awful lot right now is restricted to efforts to find out what options are available that are within the ability of the school to do without bringing jeopardy to any other parts of the school’s mission,” Talcott said.While Barry’s lawyers have asked the Supreme Court for a rehearing, Talcott said he is carefully reviewing with ABA officials options for assisting affected graduates that would be in full accordance with standards and sound education principles, including:• Allow graduates to come back to Barry law school and they won’t be charged as much for tuition.• Fast-track graduates with an advance standing to recover degrees by taking upper-level courses.“In a way, that could be a win-win situation for us,” Talcott said, explaining qualified graduates, many with experience working as law clerks, could serve as valuable mentors to first-year law students and ratchet up scholarly discussions in classes.“But obviously, it is more time and effort for people who have already gone through the program,” he added.Talcott said he was disappointed by the court’s ruling, but not surprised.“I have practiced law for 30 years, and if I’ve learned nothing else, it is in the nature of every case that it can be decided several ways, and you will not always get the outcome you would hope for. Surprise is never a term that applies,” Talcott said.“But that sad feeling for the people affected, no matter how long you practice, that never goes away.”last_img