Two Charlotte School of Law students have filed a class action federal lawsuit against the troubled school, claiming that CSL leaders hid long-running academic problems so they would not lose student tuition checks.
Lawyers for Robert Barchiesi and Lejla Hadzic entered the complaint on Friday.
They allege that Charlotte School of Law leaders, including Dean Jay Conison and President Chidi Ogene, ignored a July order from the accrediting American Bar Association to inform students of significant failings in its admissions policies and curriculum. Conison could not be reached for comment.
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School leaders fought against disclosure, federal documents say, out of fear of losing high-performing students enrolled at CSL or who might one day attend.
The complaint says an untold number of students paid tuition or took out thousands of school loans last summer based on the school’s deception that it was in good standing with the ABA.
In fact, the bar had formally notified the school three times this year that it did not meet ABA requirements. Citing the school’s “substantial and persistent” pattern of noncompliance, the bar association placed CSL under two years probation in November.
This week, the Department of Education announced it would no longer award loans and other financial aid to CSL students. It charged the school with continuing to misrepresent the extent of its problems, which also include the state’s lowest passing rate on the most recent bar examination.
CSL students received almost $50 million from the DOE during the 2015-16 school year. Now, hundreds of students are scrambling to arrange other financing or find other schools as Charlotte School of Law prepares to appeal the government's decision, hoping to win back the loan money.
In their complaint, Barchiesi and Hadzic say they would not have enrolled in the fall – and paid thousands of dollars in tuition – had the school disclosed its problems as it was ordered to in July. They say the class action includes every CSL student who paid tuition or fees on or after Aug. 1.
Tuition and fees at CSL total about $60,000 a year.
“If CSL had complied with its obligations, then it would have resulted in students not paying CSL tuition on or after Aug. 1, and defendants would have incurred substantial financial losses,” the complaint alleges.
School spokeswoman Victoria Taylor said the school had not been notified about the suit and that “we are currently focused on working to secure the best outcome possible for our students.”
The suit, filed by lawyers from Raleigh and Wilmington, also names Infilaw Inc., which owns Charlotte School of Law and operates other for-profit law schools in Florida and Arizona.
It accuses the school and its owner of deceptive and unfair trade practices, unjust enrichment, breach of fiduciary duty and fraud.
The law students have asked for a jury trial and are seeking punitive and compensatory damages for themselves and other CSL students in similar situations.
Steven Corriveau, one of the lawyers for the students said: “Charlotte School of Law, a for-profit corporation, owed its students the highest standard of care and diligence. Based upon reported findings from the American Bar Association, the United States Department of Education, and other information, sadly, it appears that the Charlotte School of Law failed to meet its obligation.”