There’s a curious case making the rounds today involving a top law school, its LL.M. program, and a convicted con man.
Mauricio Celis was convicted in 2009 for pretending to be a lawyer in Texas. Celis said that he was barred in Mexico but authorities contended that he was not, though Celis maintains his innocence.
In any event, after his conviction for unauthorized practice of law, he went to get an LL.M. After he enrolled, paid money, and spent months in the program, the school found out about his conviction and expelled him before graduation. After expulsion, Celis essentially filed an Adam Sandler-style lawsuit against the school, arguing that this was news that could have been brought to his attention yesterday.
While most of the internet is reacting with antipathy towards Celis, I’m going to defend the man. If schools weren’t so desperate to cash in on foreigners through expensive LL.M programs, they might have noticed the easily available public information about Celis’s past…
Celis was accepted to Northwestern Law in 2012. Celis claims he invested $76,000 in fees and expenses to attend the school before his past was discovered just a few months before graduation. He sued Northwestern, arguing that the school never asked him about his prior convictions.
Now, I know how that sounds. How would a prior conviction for impersonating a lawyer not be relevant? And if Celis was never actually barred in Mexico, how would getting a Northwestern LL.M really help him? Northwestern argues that Celis should have known that his past was an issue.
But, like, how? THE DUDE IS NOT A LAWYER! How in the hell should he know what is and is not important towards becoming a barred attorney in this country? Moreover, why would Celis expect that Northwestern was clueless about his past in the first place? Aside from having a public conviction and a probationary sentence on the record, Celis also had a whole article written about him in Texas Monthly back in 2010.
Assuming the Celis is not a regular reader of Above the Law, how would he know that an LL.M program at a top-14 law school is really just about using protectionist ABA rule-making to wrest money out of foreigners? He paid them $76,000 bucks and it took them till just before graduation to figure out that they’d enrolled a convicted con man… who would anticipate that? Isn’t it reasonable for a foreigner to expect that a respected university wouldn’t take $76,000 from you if they knew you would be eligible to use your education?
For the record, Northwestern Law DOES ask J.D. applicants about criminal convictions. So they are aware of the concept. It has occurred to them that people who are not barred attorneys might not know all of the ways that character and fitness reviews might impact their futures.
The ABA Journal reports that Celis’s lawsuit was voluntarily dismissed with no details on any potential settlement offer. It seems likely that Northwestern won this fight.
The lesson here, once again, is that law schools are more concerned about getting your money than they are about providing you with something useful. Not that Celis didn’t learn anything: young con men rarely get such an up-close look at how the big boys do it.
Northwestern Law School’s late discovery of a student’s UPL conviction leads to litigation [ABA Journal]
‘Con Man’ Gets the Boot [National Law Journal]