InfiLaw temporarily suspends bid to buy Charleston School of Law

By Ashley Barker
abarker@scbiznews.com
Published June 4, 2014

The InfiLaw System has temporarily suspended its application to buy the Charleston School of Law.

Sen. John Courson, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, asked the S.C. Commission on Higher Education to postpone its vote on the matter.

A statement from InfiLaw said the suspension is happening so the “commission and its staff could have time to more carefully review these matters.”

Kevin Hall, InfiLaw’s attorney, sent the request to the commission on Wednesday (.pdf). The commission was expected to vote on Thursday.

The commission’s staff members recommended in late April to approve a three-year license for the InfiLaw System to purchase the Charleston School of Law to offer Juris Doctor and Master of Law in admiralty and maritime law degrees.

But the commission’s Committee on Academic Affairs and Licensing disagreed. By a vote of 3-1, the committee approved a motion to deny a licensure for the for-profit consortium of independent law schools.

S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office issued an opinion last week saying the commission “must only evaluate an applicant for a license based upon licensing criteria.” Making a decision based on the “best interests of the state” is not in the criteria.

“We, like Senator Courson, are concerned by the conflict between the staff recommendation to approve the license, the committee’s recommendation to deny the license and the attorney general’s opinion, which establishes clearly that the CHE can only make licensure decisions based on the criteria articulated in law and regulation, which is what the staff did in making its recommendation,” InfiLaw officials said in a statement. “Given these circumstances, we want to give the commission additional time to consider and reconcile these issues, including responses to questions we submitted just a few days ago.”

InfiLaw remains committed to buying the Charleston School of Law and intends to renew its application “in due course,” according to a statement from the company.

A spokesman for the Charleston School of Law said no interviews will be allowed regarding the temporarily suspended application.

However, officials from the school provided a FAQ document on CharlestonLawFacts.com, which said no responsible offer besides InfiLaw’s has been received that would “secure the financial future of the Charleston School of Law as it is today.”

“With the downturn in the economy and despite misleading published reports, our revenues were in decline well before we began talking with InfiLaw,” the school said via its website. “The delay in securing CHE approval has created further uncertainty, particularly among students and applicants, further impacting our financial future.”

The school has not offered faculty raises for three years, and resources are limited. Revenue at the Charleston School of Law has declined by 18% since 2010, according to InfiLaw’s attorney, due to a 24% decline in enrollment.

“It is clear we must quickly come up with a plan to run and operate the school that reflects current financial circumstances,” the school said in an online statement.

Since 2010, co-owner Ed Westbrook has received more than $25 million, Hall said. InfiLaw also loaned the school $6 million for outgoing co-owners Alex Sanders and Ralph McCullough.

“The Charleston School of Law, ladies and gentlemen, is in a financial tailspin,” Hall said during a public session in Columbia.

The founders — Robert Carr, George Kosko and Westbrook — will continue to operate the school until a change in ownership is resolved.

In July 2013, the founders announced they had entered into a management services agreement with InfiLaw Management System, a subsidiary of the InfiLaw System. That consulting agreement is separate from the purchase agreement and will continue.

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Reach staff writer Ashley Barker at 843-849-3144 or @AshleyNBarker on Twitter.

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