Why, St. John’s Law School? Why?

The question on the law school application wasn’t what some would call a good one:

In 2005, David Powers, a CPA and a summa cum laude college graduate with a  master’s degree, filled out an admissions application in which he was asked  whether he had ever been “charged with, pleaded guilty to, or been found guilty  of any crime, offense or violation” apart from minor traffic violations.

The problem is that “charged with, pleaded guilty to, or been found guilty  of any crime,” is phrased in the disjunctive.  Does that mean pick one, any one of which will do? Does that mean go with the one that carries the most substantive weight? One would think a law school could do a better job of asking a question.

But David Powers sounds like quite a catch. Smart guy, hard-working, and more interestly, pulled himself out of the abyss. The sort of stuff that legends are made of. So when he applied to St. John’s Law School he was accepted.

On his application, Powers admitted he had been arrested in New Jersey in July 1999 “shortly after a drug deal” but agreed to plead guilty to third-degree  possession of a controlled dangerous substance.

In a supplemental statement submitted with the application, Powers called the  arrest “the best day of [his] life” because it ultimately caused him to get  sober and pull his life together.

And to its credit, he was admitted by St. John’s Law School.

Powers enrolled at the school in the fall of 2006 as a part-time student  without further queries from the school. According to news reports, he received  a $20,000 scholarship and ranked third in his night program class.

But Powers made a grievous error. He took a leave of absence after three semesters to take a job in Hong Kong as Chief Financial Officer for a $2 billion investment fund, and while there, decided to seek an advance ruling on whether his drug conviction would impact his ability to be admitted.  As part of this, he was asked to provide a letter from his law school.

Powers asked for a letter from St. John’s to submit with the petition. In his  request, he included a letter that he intended to later send to the Second  Department.

In that letter, Powers said he originally faced charges including  second-degree possession of LSD with the intent to distribute and possession of  Ecstasy with the intent to distribute but the charges were reduced in the plea  deal.

Boom. St. John’s refused, and instead demanded the he provide a “full accounting” of his criminal conduct. Powers did, told the whole sordid tale, no doubt assuming that the panel of four deans who questioned him would understand and appreciate his error and redemption.*

In September 2010, the school rescinded admission, pointing to “material  omissions and misrepresentations involving criminal charges that had been  brought against [him].” In particular, it noted that Powers now acknowledged his  guilt in distributing the narcotics.

Note that they didn’t just dismiss him from St. John’s after taking his tuition for three semesters, but rescinded his admission, as if he was never there.  At this moment, it’s likely weighing heavily that they went far beyond the offense of conviction, deep into the crevices of all bad acts he committed during his drug addiction.  And Powers, believing these four deans to be people of good will, likely expected at least understanding, if not some degree of grudging respect for what he accomplished.  And what he accomplished was nothing short of magnificent.

Nope. He was dead to them. And he was dead to them because they chose to kill him. Slaughter him. Cut him into tiny pieces and make him disappear, as if he never existed.  Academic empathy isn’t what it appears. At least not for former drug addicts who have overcome their addiction and fought their way back.

David Powers brought an Article 78 (for you unfortunate outliers, this is New York’s statutory embodiment of the various writs available at common law) to annul the decision.  The Second Department upheld the decision of St. John’s Law School to destroy David Powers.

Despite the petitioner’s subsequent disclosure, under the circumstances presented here, and in light of the true nature of the petitioner’s prior criminal activity, the law school’s determination to rescind his acceptance was not arbitrary and capricious, and does not warrant judicial intervention (Citations omitted).

Since the petitioner disclosed, subsequent to his admission, that he was originally charged with and was guilty of distributing, and possessing with intent to distribute, a controlled dangerous substance, we do not consider the penalty imposed to be “so disproportionate to the offense . . . as to be shocking to one’s sense of fairness” (citations omitted), thus constituting an abuse of discretion as a matter of law.

What’s “shocking to one’s sense of fairness” is an extremely nebulous determination. To a court that affirms lengthy prison sentences for drugs, David Powers may not be as sympathetic as he is to others, like me for instance.

The ruling that it’s not an arbitrary and capricious decision to “disappear” David Powers may be correct; they had their reasons, though their reasons would have been better addressed had St. John’s Law School proven itself up to the task of asking a better question on its application for admission.  But hey, it’s a law school, and nobody can expect quality questions, right?

But the damage inflicted on David Powers, a guy who in most walks of life would be applauded, a poster-boy for redemption and the struggle to overcome youthful addiction to make something of himself, to assume a role as a law-abiding member of society, is just inexcusable.  The question isn’t whether St. John’s can get away with this conduct, but why would it want to?

St. John’s Law School’s treatment of David Powers is disgusting, cruel and disgraceful.

* Ironically, Powers was unaware during the course of this that his New Jersey record had since been expunged.

17 comments on “Why, St. John’s Law School? Why?

  1. david

    So does he have a civil claim as there would seem to be a contract between the student and the school? If he disclosed the incident in the initial negotiations and the school did not request further details, it would seem that they had sufficient notice.

    1. SHG Post author

      Given that the 2d Department has affirmed the school’s rescission of his admission, it’s unlikely that there is a contract upon which to claim breach. It never happened. Whether he can sue to recover tuition under an unjust enrichment theory is another matter.

      1. Dan

        I have long since believed that law schools admitting students that they know may have an issue with the character and fitness portion of admission without either telling the student upfront in a very loud fashion, or getting some kind of pre-clearance (not that that exists) are unjustly enriching themselves.

        1. SHG Post author

          I’ve heard a variety of arguments for why schools should admit students who might not survive character and fitness due to prior convictions, usually along the lines of “they’ve come for the education, which they receive, if not to actually practice law.” It’s pretty much rainbows and unicorns stuff. But if it helps with US News or pays the rent, they put the burden back on the student to realize the error of his ways.

    2. Dave young

      “Note that they didn’t just dismiss him from St. John’s after taking his tuition for three semesters, but rescinded his admission, as if he was never there”

      It sounds as if the law school wants to ensure that Mr. Powers can’t even work toward becoming a lawyer by “clerking for the bar”. Truly evil.

      1. SHG Post author

        They could have dismissed him. They could have let him withdraw. Instead, they rescinded. It seems as if it was meant to inflict maximum pain, though it’s incomprehensible why they would want to do so.

  2. Dan

    One moral of the story is that if you already have professional skills that enable you to earn a living, such as a CPA with a master’s degree and receive offers to be the CFO of $2billion investment funds, stay as far away from law school as you possibly can. No good will come of it.

  3. John Barleycorn

    St. John’s Law School’s treatment of David Powers is disgusting, cruel and disgraceful.

    * Ironically, Powers was unaware during the course of this that his New Jersey record had since been expunged.

    Thirty years is a step and something about this yielding NOT is comical.

    Might be sexy this time around. Yield, try, or cry.

    One way or another.

    yielding some lifting myth or just holding on?

    [Ed. Note: Link Deleted per rules.]

      1. John Barleycorn

        Just a tune from thirty years ago lost in a neighborhood. Via a tripping European kid folding virtual.

        Another two are three generations to the alpine meadows.

        Who know what they will see.

        Thirty fucking years. Relax it’s more than important that any yielding is articulated.

        Yup it just is. Your efforts are noticed and realivant.

        Fuck your rules.

        https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=cNvdxhecWG4

  4. anon

    If you look at the question on their current application. It is different from the version which is quoted in this case. So what does that tell you?

    1. SHG Post author

      This is the question in the current application:

      Have you ever, either as an adult or juvenile, been cited, arrested, taken into custody, charged with, indicted, convicted or tried for, or pleaded guilty to, the commission of any felony or misdemeanor or the violation of any law, except minor parking violations, or been the subject of any juvenile delinquency or youthful offender proceeding? If yes, please explain in a supplementary statement or electronic attachment the charge or charges and releveant facts, including the nature of the offense, the dates and courts involved, and the penalty imposed, if any.
      Please note: Although a conviction may have been expunged or sealed by an order of a court, it nevertheless should be disclosed in answer to this question.
      ____ Yes
      ____ No
      You are under a continuing obligation to notify the Admissions Office of any changes in your answers to these questions up until the time of your enrollment. Once enrolled, you are under a continuing obligation to notify the Assistant Dean of Admissions of any changes in your answers to these questions.

      It tells me they realized they asked the question poorly, don’t plan to let it happen again by covering every conceivable base, and didn’t have the integrity to blame themselves for their inept question rather than their student. It also tells me they couldn’t be bothered to make sure “relevant” was spelled correctly.

  5. Anon

    I am not familiar on the process of admittance to law school. Could you clarify some things?

    “But Powers made a grievous error. He took a leave of absence after three semesters to take a job in Hong Kong as Chief Financial Officer for a $2 billion investment fund, and while there, decided to seek an advance ruling on whether his drug conviction would impact his ability to be admitted. ”

    “[…]decided to seek an advance ruling on whether his drug conviction would impact his ability to be admitted.”
    From who? Wasn’t he already admitted part-time?

    “As part of this, he was asked to provide a letter from his law school.”
    Did he not have full admittance?

    Since the university “rescinded his admission” did he have to pay back any of the $20K in scholarship money?

    1. SHG Post author

      These posts are really intended for people who are more familiar with the subject matter, but I’ll try to explain a bit:

      From who? Wasn’t he already admitted part-time?

      This refers to admission to the bar, not admission to law school. I realize that the word admission to the bar (which means license to practice law) is confusing, but that’s what lawyers call it.

      Did he not have full admittance?

      As above, a different “admittance.”

      Since the university “rescinded his admission” did he have to pay back any of the $20K in scholarship money?

      A scholarship isn’t a payment to Powers, but a deduction from what the school would otherwise have charged him. In other words, when he received his tuition bill, it was $20k less than what it would have been otherwise, but he still had to pay the balance. So the concept of “pay back” has no application here; Powers was still paying St. John’s, thought not as much as he would have paid otherwise.

      I hope this clarifies things for you.

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