A federal judge has chided Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School for creating its own public-relations problems and has denied its bid to block the American Bar Association from posting a noncompliance letter about the school’s admissions practices.
Judge Arthur Tarnow, in dismissing Cooley’s motion for a temporary restraining order against the ABA, said the school made the bed it claimed to be lying in.
“Cooley’s decision to institute, and proceed with, this action is the primary cause for the reputational harm alleged,” wrote Tarnow, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, in the Tuesday decision. “Over the past few weeks, the letter and information about this lawsuit have been widely disseminated in the public sphere.”
Cooley law school, located in Lansing, Michigan, filed the lawsuit last month claiming that the ABA’s accrediting body unlawfully posted a letter on its website stating that the law school was out of compliance with the standard that requires law schools to “only admit applicants who appear capable of satisfactorily completing its program of legal education and being admitted to the bar.”
Cooley had argued that despite a Department of Education regulation that calls for the ABA to post notices of determinations of noncompliance, the ABA was prohibited from doing so in this instance because the determination about Cooley was not final.
The ABA website at issue includes noncompliance letters issued to other schools, including Florida Coastal School of Law, Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School, Thomas Jefferson School of Law, University of Buffalo Law School-SUNY and Appalachian School of Law.
Since August 2016, the ABA has publicly disciplined 10 law schools for admitting students that it says are unlikely to graduate and pass the bar—an unprecedented crackdown, given that such actions historically are rare.
Cooley’s bar pass rate, according to the latest data available through the ABA, was 59.75 percent for test takers in February and July of 2015. The state pass rate was 71.77 percent.
Tarnow found that the law school had not demonstrated an ability to succeed on the merits of its lawsuit. He also found that the school failed to prove irreparable harm from the publication of the letter, pointing out, through precedent, that Cooley’s own lawsuit “garnered the attention of the media.” The judge also determined that blocking the posting of the letter would create substantial harm to prospective students applying to law schools and was not in the interest of the public.
A spokesman for Cooley law school said the court “expressly held that ‘Cooley may continue to litigate its claim that the ABA acted illegally in publishing the Letter.’ The law school does intend to continue with the litigations.”
An ABA spokesman said that the Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the bar “is pleased with the decision of the court in denying the TRO.”