By Ashley Barker
Published May 19, 2014
Ed Westbrook — who founded the school in 2002 along with Robert Carr, George Kosko, Alex Sanders and Ralph McCullough — said the Charleston School of Law was never created to become a part of a national consortium. He said it was meant to be a law school that would draw support from the community.
“We were going to be teaching students at the highest caliber to perform public service, and we were not going to be in it, at least at my estimation, for the almighty dollar,” Westbrook said Friday during a public hearing held by the S.C. Commission on Higher Education’s Committee on Academic Affairs and Licensing.
Westbrook said he, Carr and Kosko — Sanders and McCullough have retired — have had a difference of opinion over the past nine months about the future of the school.
“There is an old saying that I heard in trial one time that said, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ Last July, the Charleston School of Law was not broke,” Westbrook said. “We had a harmonious school; we had a supportive community; we had a wonderful student body pulling together with a fabulous faculty; we had a great dean leading us; we had the judges hiring our clerks; everyone was pulling together. Then retirement came into the picture.”
Carr and Kosko have announced that they, too, intend to retire.
“They (Carr and Kosko) had an opportunity to be retired, but not at the same amount of money that they’d get from InfiLaw,” Westbrook said. “There’s no question that InfiLaw is the most lucrative option for the founders, including, of course, for me. I would get the same amount of money from InfiLaw that they would get.”
Westbrook said an alternative future is possible for the law school. He told the commission that he’s willing to continue the school without his co-founders.
“I put up the money to start the school. If the school had failed, it would have been my financial loss. That would have been fine,” Westbrook said. “I was willing; I am willing to continue financially to back the school, and — if the license is not granted, or the ABA does not approve it, or InfiLaw decides it doesn’t want the school — to carry on with the school with a reconstituted board with community leaders and with support from the community to carry on the way we started, as a community-based law school for the students and not for the founders.”
Carr and Kosko both spoke during the North Charleston session about why they think InfiLaw should be granted a license.
“The school has improved lives; the school has improved Charleston, improved the state, it’s improved our noble and honorable profession. There is so much more that this school can do, but not with me,” said Carr, who intends to retire as soon as the regulatory process is concluded, to spend more time with his aging mother, who recently moved from New Orleans to Charleston.
“The school cannot long survive or grow with a divided vision and divided leadership,” he said. “InfiLaw brought to the table the resources and ability to take this school to the next level, to see that it survives, to see that it succeeds.”
Kosko said selling the school to InfiLaw will improve bar exam passage rates in the area.
“Last month, the South Carolina Supreme Court announced the most recent bar exam pass rates. Graduates of the InfiLaw school in Charlotte who took the South Carolina bar passed it at a rate of 69.6%. The University of South Carolina law school’s pass rate was 62.2%,” Kosko said. “The Charleston School of Law pass rate was 47.8%. This is not emotion; this is not opinion. This is just fact. The rubber met the road.”
About 25 representatives from both sides spoke out about the commission’s pending decision. Most of the Charleston School of Law administration, faculty members, Student Bar Association members, honors organization representatives and alumni who spoke favored a denial of InfiLaw’s request for a license.
President Andy Abrams said he visited other InfiLaw-owned law schools and believes the system is the right company to continue the Charleston School of Law. He said InfiLaw presents the “best opportunity to secure a bright and vibrant future for the school we care so deeply about.”
The Committee on Academic Affairs and Licensing is holding a special meeting at 2 p.m. today in Columbia to consider InfiLaw’s application for licensure.
Bettie Rose Horne, chairwoman of the committee, said Friday’s hearing was the first time in her 10 years on the committee that so many people showed an interest in one subject.
“Broad amount of interest and the strong opinions that we’ve had across the continuum suggested that in addition to receiving written opinions, it would behoove us to have the public hearings,” Horne said.
Licensure is a three-step process. Materials are submitted to staff members on the commission by the company requesting a license; staff members then make a recommendation to a subcommittee, the Commission on Academic Affairs and Licensing; and the subcommittee makes a recommendation to the full commission.
Staff members already recommended that the commission approve the InfiLaw licensure. Horne said the commission will make a decision at its next meeting, June 5.
Reach staff writer Ashley Barker at 843-849-3144 or @AshleyNBarker on Twitter.