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Monday, June 29, 2009

Court Corruption Begins in Nation's Law Schools

Universary of Illinois Jobs-for-Entry Scheme
E-mails reveal law school put a price on admission of unqualified candidate
The Chicago Tribune by Jodi S. Cohen, Tara Malone and Robert Becker - June 26, 2009

What does it cost to get an unqualified student into the University of Illinois law school?
Five jobs for graduating law students, suggest internal e-mails released Thursday.
The documents show for the first time efforts to seek favors -- in this case, jobs -- for admissions, the most troubling evidence yet of how Illinois' entrenched system of patronage crept into the state's most prestigious public university. They also detail the law school's system for handling "Special Admits," students backed by the politically connected, expanding the scope of a scandal prompted by a Chicago Tribune investigation. In one e-mail exchange, University of Illinois Chancellor Richard Herman forced the law school to admit an unqualified applicant backed by then- Gov. Rod Blagojevich while seeking a promise from the governor's go-between that five law school graduates would get jobs. The applicant, a relative of deep-pocketed Blagojevich campaign donor Kerry Peck, appears to have been pushed by Trustee Lawrence Eppley, who often carried the governor's admissions requests.

When Law School Dean Heidi Hurd balked on accepting the applicant in April 2006, Herman replied that the request came "Straight from the G. My apologies. Larry has promised to work on jobs (5). What counts?" Hurd replied: "Only very high-paying jobs in law firms that are absolutely indifferent to whether the five have passed their law school classes or the Bar." Hurd's e-mail suggests that students getting the jobs are to be those in the "bottom of the class." Law school rankings depend in part on the job placement rate of graduates. It wasn't immediately clear if the private sector or government jobs were provided. Gov. Pat Quinn convened a state commission to investigate the U. of I. admissions process after the Tribune revealed that more than 800 undergraduate applicants in the last five years received special consideration because they were backed by U. of I. trustees, legislators and others in powerful posts. Commission chairman Abner Mikva, a retired judge, said he intends to call everyone implicated in this e-mail exchange to testify before the panel. He said he learned of the e-mails late Wednesday from President B. Joseph White. "It just gets thicker and thicker and it's not good," Mikva said of the scandal. On Thursday, Herman declined to discuss the exchange. "In the future, I expect to be talking to the Mikva commission and I believe I owe them my first public statement on these matters," he said. The e-mails paint a picture of how law school officials operated a parallel admissions review for clouted students. They withheld denials until the year's end, cleared decisions with top university administrators, and debated whether to accept candidates with stronger credentials -- or stronger connections. Several clouted students received full-ride scholarships.

In private, law school officials showed their disdain for the special admits and even worked behind the scenes to campaign against them. At one point in March 2007, Hurd asked staffers to collect data about how the clouted students performed at law school to provide a weapon against their admittance. Admissions dean Paul Pless reported that the school admitted at least 24 "SI," or special interest, students during a four-year span. He said they had lower grades and standardized test scores than the general applicant pool and they lagged behind their classmates once admitted. On average, they maintained a 2.86 grade point average during their first year compared with the 3.2 grade point average for the overall class, he said. One faced "formal disciplinary charges" and left the school. But their dislike of the program didn't stop administrators from accepting the students. "I'll do my best to keep the number of Provostian admits to a minimum, and extract payment for them," Hurd wrote to her admissions staff in 2003. On Thursday in Chicago, university trustees met in emergency closed session for more than three hours before releasing the documents. After the meeting, Trustee David Dorris expressed his concerns about what he read. "Political pressure, power, money shall not be the basis for admission to a public university," Dorris said. He said exceptions can be made for some applicants with subpar academic records, such as athletes, but "the fact that Rod Blagojevich puts pressure on is not an extenuating circumstance."

Last week, the federal government subpoenaed three state universities, including the U. of I., seeking communications from Blagojevich and his associates concerning student admissions. University officials were ordered to respond by July 2. Eppley said little after the meeting at U. of I.'s city campus. "I can say it was a great meeting," he said. Also facing questions about the new e-mails was the university's board chairman, Niranjan Shah, whose relative was discussed in an e-mail exchange released Thursday. The relative was admitted to the law school in 2006. As Herman and Hurd exchanged e-mails about the relative's acceptance, Hurd wrote: "Any more phone calls to make to influential people just to make sure they feel the love?" Shah told the Tribune he did not deliberately sway the decision in his relative's favor. "I never requested special treatment for anybody," Shah said. The Oak Brook businessman -- who sponsored at least nine students in three years, records show -- rebuked any bartering that may have played a role in admissions. "I do not condone this kind of exchange, asking for jobs and this and that," Shah said. "I don't know if they were just playing or if they were serious." The documents released Thursday should have been provided to the Tribune last month in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. Asked why they weren't, university spokesman Tom Hardy said: "I don't know the answer ... and it is an issue that we are going to need to address." Trustee Dorris said he is disturbed by the university's failure to produce the documents earlier. "I have asked the same question," Dorris said. "You will have to draw your own conclusion and it's probably the same as mine." Tribune reporter Stacy St. Clair contributed to this report. - -


Anonymous said...

It looks like the race for the state with the most corrupt government is neck and neck between IL and NY.
IL is trying an end run, but NY will put up a good fight.

Anonymous said...

Some of the biggest political hacks are in the law schools---- and they protect their friends. Plain and simple.

Someone should check out Pace Law School. They've been protecting numerous criminals in Westchester for a long, long time.

Anonymous said...

NY decisions aren't based on law, so why do you need great legal mind? Success in court comes from corruption,not the quality of your argument. With their connections, these dolts will succeed even if they're illiterate.

Anonymous said...

The question is where do they breed these creatures that are a plague on society?

Anonymous said...

NY decisions aren't based on law, so why do you need great legal mind? Success in court comes from corruption,not the quality of your argument. With their connections, these dolts will succeed even if they're illiterate.

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The first hearing, held in Albany on June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:

               Video of 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption
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