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Opening Statements Begin In Suit Against San Diego Law School

March 9, 2016 1:30 p.m.

Opening Statements Begin In Suit Against San Diego Law School

GUEST:

Jason S. Hartley, attorney, Stueve Siegel Hanson LLP

Related Story: Opening Statements Begin In Suit Against San Diego Law School

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Our top story on midday edition is opening statements are being made in a San Diego courtroom today in a case against Thomas Jefferson school of Law. A graduate of that school is suing -- she has not been able to find full-time work as an attorney since graduating in 2008. Claims that Thomas Jefferson inflates its graduate employment statistics in order to get people to enroll. That claim has been made against several law schools across the country but this is the first case it has allowed to go to trial. Earlier today I called with San Diego attorney Jason Hartley who specializes in consumer lot. Jason, people may hear about this case and dismiss it as one student not being able to get a job. What is the heart of this case for consumers as you see it?
The difference in this case apart from the ones that have been brought around the country you've got exceptionally strong consumer protection laws in California. You have judge who is willing to let the issues and the questions that the plaintiffs brought to this case to go to a jury to decide.
So the heart of this case for consumers -- do you see what have it wider implications?
I think it could have wider implications specifically for law schools and other schools that count their employment statistics after graduation as one way to entice prospective students to enroll. The case here in the defense that Thomas Jefferson is raising is that their employment statistics that will published with US news and world report and other publications complied with the ABA's accrediting bodies requirement and that however may not be enough if the jury finds that the Thomas Jefferson statistics or actually misleading.
Will kinds of post graduate law schools allowed to count when they publish employment statistics for their schools?
I don't know specifically what the accrediting body art for the ABA. I gather from the complaint that they include part-time employment, include employment that is not related to the legal field at all and they include employment that might be limited in scope and time and could be reasonable prospective students to infer that the statistics are implied for lawyer jobs as full-time employment. I think that's what the plaintiffs here testified that they understood when they read the statistics.
Is included -- inflating future employment numbers is something that consumers should look out for in many different types of schools?
Sure. It's an important reason for their selection of school they certainly should be.
It's been difficult for law students to suit their schools over this particular alleged inflated employment statistics so you told us that the consumer laws in California are bit stricter to that's one of the reasons this lawsuit is going to court. Do you think this is a particularly difficult claim to prove?
Yes, I would say it is difficult and that's because other cases with similar facts have been dismissed by courts around the country and one other case that I think is still viable in Delaware -- city attorney just doesn't want to pursue it because the reward is going to be so little. The students suing Thomas Jefferson her name is Anna Ella Burda says she has racked up like $170,000 a school loan debt and interest something she says she would have never done if she had known that future employment as an attorney was doubtful. Is that kind of debt common for law students?
Unfortunately, it is today. I graduated from law school nearly 20 years ago and did it in current that kind of a debt but nevertheless I am still paying down on my school loans. It's an expensive proposition. I think anyone who is considering law school should do a lot of research and make sure that's an area of law -- area of career they want to pursue because of the big responsibility in terms not just your time and energy but also your financial commitment.
The plaintiff in this case is suing for only $125,000 in damages as I understand it. Her attorneys fees will eat up a chunk of that if she gets the judgment. Does it seem to you as if this plaintiff is trying to make a point?
I would certainly agree with that. I should clarify therefore plaintiffs in the case not just Ms. Ella Burda. They all have that in the six figures. There's a greater potential of award if the plaintiff was successful. I think if you want my honest opinion I think it is the attorney that has -- has interest as well as the plaintiff. If the attorney who probably is donating his time at this point considering the age of the case in order to get a recovery for it -- his client.
If the court rules in favor of the plaintiff to think of the lawsuits will follow?
I do. I don't understand why anyone one wouldn't want to if they found these statements misleading and they relied on them the same way the plaintiff to hear. I may make this point Maureen, even if the plaintiff is successful in proving the liability and proving the statistics from Thomas Jefferson violated the competition laws there is still a question to what the jury may award as [ Indiscernible ] as a result. They will be influenced by the assumption of the risk, the efforts they expand or didn't expand to get a job or actual jobs they held or offered after they finished law school. The lot here does not award technically damages. It's an equitable statute. This cause of action that the plaintiff is adhering to get a large award is the fraud claim. That's generally a pretty high burden.
I've been speaking with San Diego Jason Hartley, thank you so much Jason
Thank you Maureen.