SAN DIEGO (CN) - Opening arguments were heard Wednesday in a lawsuit accusing the Thomas Jefferson School of Law of defrauding a student by misrepresenting its graduates' employment records and its reputation.
Anna Alaburda sued the law school in 2011. She said that after graduating with honors in 2008, $150,000 in debt, and passing the California Bar Exam, she had been unable to find a full-time job as an attorney.
"On many occasions, plaintiff was informed by employers that they do not hire graduates of TJSL and that the law school's reputation in the legal industry is well below average," she said in the complaint.
Superior Court Judge Joel Pressman refused to certify the case as a class action in 2013.
Alaburda claims, among other things, that the school misrepresented its graduates' employment records, particularly in its reports to U.S. World & News Report annual "best Graduate Schools" articles.
When Thomas Jefferson reported that 80.1 percent of its law graduates were "employed nine months after graduation," it counted graduates who worked as convenience store clerks, pool cleaners, or part-time waiters, Alaburda said.
She said she "reasonably interpreted" the 80.1 percent employment rate "to mean that the vast majority of TJSL graduates would find employment as full-time attorneys."
Alaburda claims that Thomas Jefferson actually has one of the worst rates of students employed at graduation: about 8 percent employed when they receive their diplomas.
Her complaint also cited a Jan. 8, 2011 article in The New York Times, which "reported that TJSL leads the nation's law schools with 95 percent of students graduating with debt."
Pressman refused to grant the law school summary judgment after a December 2015 hearing. The law school argued then that it had not misrepresented data to U.S. News & World Report, and that students bear the burden of properly reading the employment figures.
On Wednesday, Alaburda's attorney Brian Procel told jurors that corporations are responsible for what they tell consumers.
"We're not talking about a pair of shoes or a T-shirt; we're talking about a law degree," Procel told a packed courtroom.
In his opening statement, the law school's attorney Michael Sullivan apologized to the jury in advance, for what he called the "tedious" nature employment statistics, and how they were gathered and reported.
The law school claims it did not have a pattern or practice of misrepresenting or misreporting employment figures, but that Alaburda "cherry picked examples of mistakes in their data over the course of 15 years."
Alaburda claims the school made 144 errors in 15 years in reporting its graduates' employment records: a statistic the school disputes.
It also disputed Alaburda's claim that Thomas Jefferson is one of the most expensive law schools in the nation, saying it is the cheapest of three law schools in San Diego.
It also noted Alaburda's that tuition was offset by a $20,000 a year scholarship, and claimed that Alaburda received two job offers within months of passing the Bar exam, and turned down a job at a law firm to take a higher-paying one.
The trial is expected to take eight days.
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