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Western State College of Law Is Judged Fit for ABA Accreditation

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A year ago, if you wanted to attend a fully accredited law school in Orange County, you were out of luck.

Today, there are three to choose from after Western State University College of Law in Fullerton on Tuesday won accreditation from the American Bar Assn. after a three-year effort.

It joined the ranks of Chapman University School of Law in Orange, which secured ABA accreditation in February, and Whittier Law School, which already was accredited before it relocated to Costa Mesa from Los Angeles last August.

“Securing accreditation will have tremendous impact on our graduates,” said Dennis R. Honabach, dean of the law school. The ABA accreditation will permit Western State students to sit for the bar examination in any state in the country and to apply for advanced degree programs at other ABA-approved law schools.

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“It’s been a long time coming and is well-deserved,” said Marc Adelman, president of the State Bar of California. “The red tape that the ABA puts institutions through to ensure competence and professionalism and ethics is important.”

There are now 182 ABA-accredited law schools in the nation and 19 in California.

Western State, founded in 1966, was among the first law schools catering to working adults who needed flexible schedules and night classes. “If it hadn’t been for Western State, I wouldn’t be an attorney today,” said 1977 graduate Jean Hobart, president of the Orange County Women Lawyers Assn. She was 30 years old when she started law school and had four children, all younger than 9.

Hobart, who didn’t have the option of moving or making long drives, said Western State serves a need for nontraditional students in Orange County. “I wouldn’t have been accepted to any top 10 schools, yet I’m a good lawyer and I passed the bar on the first try,” she said.

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Western State was rejected by the ABA in 1987 for several reasons, including its for-profit status, Honabach said. The school generally was not ready for accreditation at the time, he said.

When the ABA later changed the policy barring accreditation for for-profit law schools, Western State considered overcoming the other barriers.

In 1995, the school tried again but came up short because of its inferior library and multiple-campus structure.

Honabach, who became dean in the summer of 1996, spearheaded the funding of a new library and the school’s consolidation into a single campus in Fullerton.

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But the end Tuesday to the long accreditation process came too late for the 86 students who graduated in May.

“Unfortunately, only students who graduate after [today’s] vote graduate from an ABA-approved law school,” Honabach said.

Jacqueline Artinger of Huntington Beach, one of the May graduates, wants the ABA to reevaluate its procedures and institute a grandfather clause for students on the cusp of the ABA announcement. “There’s a lot of disappointment and anger,” she said.

Honabach said Western State will work with those students to make sure they get as many of the benefits as they can from the accreditation. “I’m sorry it didn’t happen for them in time,” he said.

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Some students, such as Sebron Tucker, deliberately dragged out their course work when ABA officials started campus visits last fall. Tucker will finish classes in December. “I held out for accreditation,” he said.

Fellow student Mark Bravo was on campus Tuesday handing out T-shirts printed up by the law school to celebrate the ABA decision.

“No one was ever promised that they’d get ABA accreditation,” Bravo said. He will graduate after he completes summer school. “I was just at the right place at the right time.”


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