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UCI ready to hit the law books

Times Staff Writers

UC Irvine’s star-crossed plan for a law school is back from the dead.

A revamped proposal for the long-sought-after project is expected to win approval today from the University of California regents.

For the record:
12:00 AM, Nov. 18, 2006 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday November 18, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
UCI law school: An article in some editions of Thursday’s California section about UC Irvine’s plans for a new law school referred to California Postsecondary Education Commission senior researcher Stacy Wilson as “her.” Wilson is male.

“I wholeheartedly recommend this,” UC President Robert C. Dynes, the top-ranking official of the 10-campus system, told the regents Wednesday during their meeting at UCLA. “The Irvine campus has thought this through very carefully.”

At the session, UCI Chancellor Michael V. Drake outlined his blueprint for a 600-student law school focusing on environmental, intellectual property, international and family and immigration law.

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He said the project would be financed entirely by tuition and private donations, which already total $23 million. He called it the “right project for the right place at the right time.”

Although critics have questioned the need for another law school, citing studies that show a glut of attorneys in the state, supporters argue that Southern California is shortchanged because UCLA is the only public law program south of San Francisco.

“We have a lot of lawyers in California but not too many who touch our underserved communities,” regent Eddie Island said. “We need the right kind of lawyers.”

A law school has been part of the plan for UCI since its early days in the mid-1960s. Drake called it “the missing piece” in UCI’s repertoire of professional programs, which includes schools of medicine, engineering and business.

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UCI first proposed a law school in 1989, but it was derailed by a recession. The idea was resuscitated in 2001, when then-Chancellor Ralph Cicerone vowed to raise the project’s $40-million cost himself. The strategy was an unusual one, since most UC projects are funded mainly by the state.

But the California Postsecondary Education Commission, which advises the governor and Legislature on college matters, shot down that pitch saying a rival plan from UC Riverside was “far superior.”

This time around, UC Riverside withdrew its proposal, opting to lobby for a medical school.

If all goes well, the new law school would enroll its first 67 students in 2009, eventually expanding to 600 budding attorneys, officials said. The school would be housed in a building on Berkeley Place while a permanent school is constructed.

It would be the first public law school to open in California since 1965, when UC Davis’ program debuted. UCLA’s law school opened 60 years ago.

The law school’s seeming approval follows one of the low points in UCI’s history -- the revelation that 32 liver-transplant patients died while school doctors turned down viable donor organs. That was followed by reports of deficiencies in other organ transplant programs, questions about cardiologists’ credentials, allegations of nepotism and other problems.

The regents indicated they would formally endorse UCI’s law school proposal today on the condition that campus officials try to smooth over several objections cited by the California Postsecondary Education Commission.

CPEC senior researcher Stacy Wilson said her agency was reviewing documents UCI submitted in response to the commission’s questions. Among other things, CPEC wants to double-check UCI’s updates to a Rand Corp. study that predicted California would have enough attorneys until 2015.

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UCI’s updated calculations show a shortage of lawyers.

Regent Odessa Johnson, who also sits on the commission’s board, said she was confident the issues would be resolved in UCI’s favor.

Drake agreed, telling the regents, “I am as sure as sure can be that we will work things out.”

rebecca.trounson@latimes.com

roy.rivenburg@latimes.com


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