Suits Over Law School Come-Ons Wind Down
MANHATTAN (CN) - The dismissal of dueling defamation claims between a New York firm and a Michigan school could signal a coda to nationwide litigation over alleged inflation of the salary expectations for law school graduates.
Based in Lansing, Mich., Thomas M. Cooley Law School has been battling the Manhattan-based firm formerly known as Kurzon Strauss for the past three years over allegations that it lured students by painting rosy prospects of their future careers.
Cooley defended its reputation by lobbing defamation claims against its accusers and received a countersuit in return.
On Wednesday, the 6th Circuit found that the school failed to prove "actual malice" by the Manhattan firm, now known as Kurzon LLP.
A week earlier, a Manhattan federal judge booted Kurzon's countersuit on standing grounds, in an opinion that described the origins of the sprawling litigation.
David Anziska, a lawyer formerly with the New York-based firm Kurzon Strauss, began three years ago to search for signs of fraud in how law schools across the country promote themselves to prospective students.
Over the course of his investigation, Anziska posted a statement on the blog JD Underground calling Cooley one of the "worst offenders" of postgraduation data manipulation. Anziska also noted "reports" that Cooley students "are defaulting on loans at an astounding 41 percent," the opinion states.
Although his employer insisted that it did not know about this blog post and posted a retraction in June 2011, Cooley sued the firm, its partner Jesse Strauss and Anziska in Michigan state court for defamation and other counts.
The school also went after four anonymous bloggers, including a former student behind the site "The Thomas Cooley Law Scam" in July.
The next month, Kurzon alleged in a Michigan federal complaint that Cooley committed fraud, negligent misrepresentation and deceptive business practices regarding its postgraduate employment data. New York Law School faced a $200 million lawsuit alleging similar behavior that same week.
Cooley's president Don LeDuc reacted by posting a private message on the school's password-protected intranet:
"We believe these particular defendants have crossed the line both legally and ethically, calling us criminals who deceive our students and steal their tuition money, and ascribing to us fraudulent student loan activities and default rates," LeDuc wrote, according to the ruling.
While LeDuc said the message was intended for students and staff, Kurzon claimed that LeDuc's statement defamed them to the New York bar and others.
Virtually all of these cases now have been tossed.
Cooley's general counsel James Thelan commented in an email that spate of "unsuccessful class action lawsuits" were "unfortunate and misguided."
"We can't speak for other law schools, but Cooley takes great pride in the diversity of solid, professional employment that its graduates find on the strength of the law degree they earn here," he wrote.
Meanwhile, the failed lawsuits may indirectly have inspired reform.
The American Bar Association now "requires law schools to give more meaningful and transparent statistics regarding post-graduate employment rates," attorney Jeffrey Kurzon noted in an email.
Thelan countered that this "more detailed breakdown of postgraduation employment data" is "not any different than the data that we've always been willing to provide our students, prospective students, and applicants on request."
Cooley is "pleased to have these matters moving to final resolution," he added.
Kurzon, for his part, indicated that his firm is "reviewing our options" regarding the dismissed defamation suit.