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FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. � Got $20 million? If so, you could have a law school building named after you. Ave Maria School of Law is selling naming rights to the new law school facility it’s building in southwest Florida. “We’d like to find someone who would want the opportunity to have their name associated with the school, to help us with the construction costs,” said Dean Bernard Dobranski. He said the school is rapidly moving forward with its controversial plan to relocate from Ann Arbor, Mich., to Ave Maria, Fla., and has even obtained architectural renderings of the new school. The school, with about 400 students, is estimating that the new building will cost upward of $20 million. It will be located on the grounds of Ave Maria University in the new town of Ave Maria, Dobranski said, with plans to open in 2009. He also said he hopes to get tax-exempt funding from the state or county to finance the building. The plan is moving ahead, Dobranski insists, despite continuing controversy surrounding the school’s planned move, faculty departures and an ongoing investigation by the American Bar Association. The ABA will at some point rule on whether to continue to accredit the school. Meanwhile, a whistleblower lawsuit filed by three professors who say they were wrongfully terminated is progressing. Lawyers for the defendants � Dobranski, Ave Maria founder Tom Monaghan and the Ave Maria Foundation, the school’s philanthropic arm � have filed responses. Donald Miller and Benjamin K. Steffans of Detroit’s Butzel Long are representing the school and Dobranski. Edwin Pear, Karl Fink and Cynthia York of Ann Arbor, Mich.’s Pear Sperling Eggan & Daniels represent Monaghan and the foundation. In his recent reply to the allegations, Dobranski denied that the professors were suspended or refused tenure in retaliation for sending the ABA a letter of complaint about school officials. The letter said, among other things, that faculty were intimidated into going along with the move and were cut out of the decision-making process. The school asserts that Stephen Safranek, a tenured professor, was terminated “for cause,” and that one-year contracts of the other two professors, Edward Lyons and Philip Pucillo, nontenured professors, were simply not renewed. In fact, Dobranski’s lawyers argue, school officials didn’t know which professors had sent the letter to the ABA when they took the action against the professors. Lawyers for Monaghan and the Foundation filed a motion late last month asking for a more definitive statement of the claim against the defendants. The motion claims that Monaghan and the foundation should not be included in the suit because it is an employment action and no one is alleging an employment contract existed between the parties. The motion appears to confirm the allegation that Monaghan claimed the Virgin Mary directed him to move the school to Florida. The motion says that Monaghan’s reason for wanting to relocate the school was due to “his own religious experiences. “Despite plaintiff’s attempt to engender a controversy . . . the ‘legitimacy’ of Monaghan’s deeply-held religious beliefs, whatever they may be, is not really a matter for decision by this court.” The attorney who is representing the three professors in their whistleblower suit, Deborah Gordon of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., called the defendants’ replies to the suit “totally without merit.” Ave Maria Law School has been embroiled in controversy since it abruptly said in February that it would be moving. The school was started in 2000 by Monaghan, founder of Domino’s Pizza Inc. and a multimillionaire, to provide legal education with a Catholic emphasis. Monaghan purchased land and created the town of Ave Maria, east of Fort Myers, Fla. He has already moved the undergraduate university there. Reaction to the law school move was overwhelmingly negative. Faculty passed a vote of no confidence in the dean. Some 10 faculty members left, although it’s unclear how many left due to the move. There are currently about 20 professors at the school. Dobranski said that 30 students left last year � some due to the pending move. Then the lawsuit was filed. Meanwhile, the ABA launched its investigation into the school’s planned move and its ability to retain competent faculty members. The school had until Dec. 14 to provide a report to the ABA detailing its plans. An ABA spokeswoman declined to comment, citing the matter as confidential. Dobranski said the school has rebounded from the controversy and now has a record number of law students. Additionally, he said, the school has been contacted by 15 to 20 tenured professors interested in working for Ave Maria. Safranek, one of the professors who filed the suit, disputes that rosy view and said he knows of seven faculty members who are planning on leaving. “This is about whether it’s a real law school or Tom Monaghan’s school,” he said. “The best people won’t come to work for Monaghan.”

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