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The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday dealt a blow to 111 Barry University School of Law students, ruling that their having graduated more than a year before the school was accredited means they are ineligible to practice law in the state. “I’m sure it’s devastating to them, no question about it, as it is to us,” said Dean Stanley Talcott, an hour after he learned of the 6-0 decision. (Justice R. Fred Lewis was recused.) The law school, located in Orlando, Fla., has not decided whether to file for a rehearing, Talcott said. The Florida Bar Board of Examiners allowed Barry students who graduated in January, June and July 2000 and in January 2001 to take the Florida Bar exam. But the results were to be released only if Barry got accreditation before the ABA’s February 2001 meeting. It did not. The ABA did not grant provisional accreditation until Feb. 4, 2002. Since the rules of the Supreme Court require that applicants must have graduated no more than 12 months prior to a law school gaining accreditation, the 111 people who graduated prior to Feb. 4, 2001, were ineligible, the court ruled. The university sought to have the court declare that the relevant date was not the time of provisional accreditation but the time of the ABA site visit of Oct. 29 to Nov. 1, 2000. The court rejected that argument. The court said that allowing a prior date would require it to second-guess the ABA accreditation process. The 14-page ruling also stated that the students “were on notice of the risk in attending an unaccredited law school when they began their studies at Barry University.” The university was represented by Lucinda A. Hofmann, a partner in the Miami office of Holland & Knight, and by former Florida Supreme Court Justice Stephen H. Grimes, a Holland & Knight partner in Tallahassee. Grimes said he was “very disappointed” by the decision. Hofmann said the university has about two weeks to ask for a rehearing and will decide in the next few days whether to do so. “There are a lot of unknowns here, because this is a unique circumstance,” she said. “We are not aware of any other school that’s been confronted with these issues.” She said it’s possible the graduates could apply to practice law in other states, but no one had yet researched those options. “But these graduates went to Barry because they live here, have ties to the state. They were hoping they could be admitted to practice of law in the state,” Hofmann said. Two law school graduates sued Barry a year and a half ago over its failure to win accreditation. That suit is pending, said Talcott. Whether more suits will be filed as a result of this ruling, he would not speculate.

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