Lincoln Memorial University (LMU) was denied accreditation for its Duncan School of Law but has petitioned the court asking that the court force the American Bar Association to remove such information from its website. Judge Thomas A. Varlan heard arguments for both sides on Friday but as of yet has made no ruling.
The hearing lasted almost 5 hours, following which Judge Varlan stated he would look closely at each side’s argument in addition to focusing on hundreds of pages of court documents filed during the prior week. He reported it could be as long as 2 weeks before he would make a ruling on the request for a temporary restraining order.
The Duncan School of Law is located in Knoxville, Tennessee. The school had just learned of its denial for accreditation and within 2 days had filed suit. The law school is arguing that the denial is an attempt to limit competition for the decreasing pool of applications for law school.
Michael Cioffi is a Cincinnati-based lawyer who is representing Lincoln Memorial. He feels that the existence of the school itself is in jeopardy as it would be very hard for a law school to bounce back from such a blow to its reputation. Cioffi argues that the bar association evaluated the school using guidelines that were not a part of its own written rules. He states there is a contradiction between the board’s decision now and the evaluation by its own team that had visited the campus in March.
Anne Rae is an attorney for the bar association. She feels the court should not rule on the case yet because the school can still file for an appeal. She also fears that other schools will feel they can take the bar to court if they are unhappy with the outcome of their accreditation.
Lincoln Memorial officials have reported they do not plan to file an appeal, even though they have until January 19 to do so. The administration is not eager to continue with the legal proceedings because the council that denied accreditation to the school also appoints the panel to which the school would need to file an appeal. The American Bar Association states this is a common situation in review processes.
Rae also states that since the ABA’s denial is not final, requiring the bar to remove such information from its website is a violation of First Amendment rights. She also points out that the school’s media attention did more to inform the public that the school has been denied accreditation than did anything on the bar’s website. Cioffi denied that such publicity was the culprit, but rather that future students may be discouraged from attending Duncan because it had been denied accreditation. He felt that removing the information from the ABA’s website would help prevent damage to the school’s reputation while awaiting a final decision by the court.