Legal Battle Over GU Law Fees Ends
Published: Monday, November 22, 2010
Updated: Thursday, July 19, 2012 20:07
A Georgetown Law student's year-long legal battle against the State Bar of California ended last month when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear his case in which he argued that he should be able to take the bar a year early.
Roger Gordon (LAW '11), who would be in his third year of law school, took a leave of absence this semester to sue the State Bar of California for the right to take the bar examination after two years of law school instead of the required three, claiming that the extra years of law school consist of superfluous, expensive electives.
Gordon said he decided to pursue his case in federal court due to the exorbitant cost of getting a law degree. Claiming that he is graduating with over $175,000 in debt, Gordon is upset by unreasonably high law tuitions.
"If I want to be a tenant rights lawyer, it's like slitting my throat. I can't afford to represent those folks," Gordon told the National Law Journal.
Gordon took a leave of absence to bring his suit against the State Bar of California, but his appeals to the Northern California District Court and then to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals were both dismissed.
Gordon claimed the de facto requirement for aspiring lawyers to take on an enormous amount of debt is discriminatory, especially for black students like him.
In his petition to the Supreme Court, Gordon wrote that requiring three years of law school raises "financial barriers to enrollment," and "makes it difficult . to later represent clients who cannot afford the high fees [Gordon] would be forced to charge."
An African-American, Gordon also argued to the Court that "African-Americans are disproportionately harmed, both as prospective attorneys and as clients, because they are less wealthy as a class."
In affirming the District Court's case dismissal, the Ninth Circuit wrote that it dismissed Gordon's case as it did not sufficiently argue that the unequal treatment Gordon claimed to be a victim of was committed with an intent to discriminate.
Michael Kessler, an assistant professor of government and the Assistant Director of the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown, is critical of Gordon's unsuccessful petition and legal arguments.
"It's a far-fetched, poorly written brief that glides over the salient points as if nine justices will be magically persuaded to his views by the inclusion of `Logic dictates' at the beginning of a sentence," Kessler said.
Kessler also believes Gordon misinterpreted the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses.
"The petition is all over the map on this," Kessler said. "Great way to imagine [the law], but the law doesn't work that way."
While Anthony Clark Arend, the director of the Master of Science and Foreign Service and current adjunct law professor at the Law Center who also founded the Institute for International Law and Politics at Georgetown, said he found the case interesting, he thought there was little legal ground for Gordon's case.
"Gordon raises some fascinating policy questions, but I don't see where the law grants him the right he is asserting," Arend said.
Gordon was not represented by a law firm; instead, he argued his own case in court.
"The Court and the people deserve the best advocate for the issue, and I believe I was best suited to argue [the case] because of my personal experience," he said.
Kessler, though, was skeptical of Gordon's ability to adequately present such a petition.
"Complain about the high cost of legal education, work to raise money for scholarships for legal aid people, but this petition is not strong evidence that one can go it alone to a positive result," Kessler said.
Gordon believes a primary cause for his lack of success was the system of checks and balances on the judiciary.
"A problem arises when the rule being challenged arises from the courts themselves," Gordon said. "Asking the courts to knock down the pedestal they stand on always has a snowball's chance."
Regardless of the legal merit of Gordon's case, his petition to the Supreme Court was a long shot. Of the roughly 10,000 petitions it receives each year, the Court only hears about 1 percent."