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Sacramento, Calif. � State Sen. Joe Dunn wants more scrutiny of California’s 15 unaccredited law schools. Leaders at some of those schools say the senator really just wants to put them out of business. Dunn, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is pushing legislation that would give oversight of the unaccredited schools to the State Bar’s Committee of Bar Examiners. That power now rests with the state’s Bureau for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education. Dunn, D-Santa Ana, contends the state agency doesn’t have the staff or experience to ensure the schools are offering a good legal education to their students, who traditionally pass the bar exam at lower rates than peers at accredited campuses. The senator wants the committee to create rules for unaccredited schools that are separate and less stringent than those for Bar-accredited schools. The bill authorizes the committee to charge an unspecified fee for providing oversight. At a state Senate hearing last fall, faculty of unaccredited schools did not oppose the switch, Dunn said Tuesday, “with the caveat that they wanted to ensure that was not simply a precursor to an assault on the unaccredited community.” And it’s not, he insisted. “I’m happy to continue the dialogue with unaccredited law schools to ensure that nothing in this bill imposes unreasonable fees or interferes with affordability.” But the deans of some schools see a more sinister intent in the bill. “It’s an attempt to put us out of business,” said Sherry Ross, dean of the University of Silicon Valley Law School in Gilroy. Bar examiners “will, if they get control, which is what they’re seeking, impose fees on the schools so onerous and burdensome that the small schools that cater to small communities of students will go under.” Dean Dennis, chairman of the Committee of Bar Examiners, was not available for comment Thursday. But in the April issue of the California Bar Journal, Dennis noted the state has few restrictions on who can take the bar exam. “That’s the way California has opened itself up to many people to become a lawyer,” he said. “The counter position is it’s a very difficult test so you have to really prepare if you are going to pass it.” The Bar has not taken a position on Dunn’s legislation. Dunn has been critical of unaccredited law schools’ low Bar-passage rates. He’s also alleged, citing anecdotal evidence, that their graduates are less prepared for courtroom work. But deans of those schools say they provide a lower-cost option for would-be students who work full time or can’t make it at a school sanctioned by the State Bar or the American Bar Association. “When people get kicked out of McGeorge or Davis or Lincoln, they have a place to land here,” said Leonard Padilla, chairman of the board at the University of Northern California Lorenzo Patino School of Law in Sacramento. Padilla’s opposition to Dunn’s bill is not universal among leaders of unaccredited schools. “I have no problem with that,” said Sy Littman, owner and dean of Inland Valley University College of Law in Upland. “The Bar has requisites. You follow them. Otherwise, don’t be a law school.” Doris Peeler-Brown, dean of the East Bay Law School in Oakland, said she’s willing to work with the Bar on new rules as long as it prices any new fees reasonably. “We are definitely on a shoestring budget because we have very few students and our expenses go up, not down,” she said. Dunn’s bill, SB 1568, sailed out of its first policy committee with the only dissenting vote cast by Sen. Dick Ackerman, R-Irvine.

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