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Michigan’s Thomas M. Cooley Law School lost its federal appeal last week challenging a one-year sanction by the American Bar Association against operating two satellite campuses because they were opened in 2003 without ABA consent. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision to uphold the sanction may be little more than a symbolic embarrassment at this point, because the sanction ended on July 31, 2006. Both the Grand Rapids and Oakland, Mich., campuses are up and running again. The dispute turned on the meaning of the word “is” in ABA rules for sanctioning schools that operate without ABA acquiescence. Cooley, which operates an accredited Lansing main campus, sued in 2004 to challenge the sanctions as a violation of due process. Thomas M. Cooley Law School v. ABA, No. 05-1891. The ABA accredits law schools nationally and under its rules allowed schools to open satellite programs without ABA approval if they constitute less than 20% of the program. More than 20% was considered, under 2001 rules, tantamount to creation of a new law school. In 2003, the ABA relaxed those rules. In 2002, Cooley officials sought permission to open the Oakland campus but used the more permissive, but still pending, reformed rules. The ABA denied the request under its 2001 standards and moved to sanction the school after it opened a second satellite operation in Grand Rapids. Cooley reduced its program to below the 20% level to comply with ABA rules prior to the sanctions hearing. The ABA told Cooley that it could apply again in 2005 and as a sanction refused to allow operation until July 31, 2006. Turning on ‘is’ The appeals court upheld the sanction, despite Cooley’s argument that ABA rules state that the purpose of the show-cause hearing was to determine whether a school “IS currently in compliance,” rather than alleged periods of noncompliance. The 6th Circuit agreed with the ABA that its rules “cannot be given such a literal interpretation,” otherwise the ABA would be powerless to sanction blatant disregard of rules. Judge Alice Batchelder, concurring in the outcome, did say that the majority’s interpretation of “is” in the rule “turns grammar on its head.” The ABA sanction depended on whether the law school is in compliance at the time of the show-cause hearing, she wrote. The school’s attorney Michael Cioffi, of the Cincinnati office of Philadelphia’s Blank Rome, did not return a call for comment. The ABA’s attorney, Anne Rea of Sidley Austin in Chicago, declined to comment.

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