COSTA MESA Whittier Law School faculty, angered at this week’s announcement that the campus will close its doors, are mulling over legal options after last-minute efforts to delay the public disclosure fell short.
A day before the Whittier College Board of Trustees announced that the law school will be discontinued, attorneys for more than a half-dozen faculty members filed an attempt for a temporary restraining order against the parent school.
A judge denied their request. But the issues raised in the court filings – including questions about the fate of millions of dollars raised in a recent sale of the Costa Mesa campus property that faculty contend was promised to the law school – will likely be at the center of future litigation, an attorney for the faculty members said on Thursday.
“It was a very irresponsible decision,” said attorney Hanna Chandoo of the trustee’s decision. A Whittier College alum, Chandoo filed the restraining-order request. “It is very sudden and not thought out.”
In announcing the decision to close the campus, Whittier College officials noted that like many other similar institutions across the country, Whittier Law School has struggled with declining enrollment and tuition income.
Whittier College officials declined to comment on the allegations in the court complaint, saying they had not received a copy of the legal challenge.
After decades as a profitable arm of the larger college, Chandoo in the court filing says that declining enrollment had the law school facing a budget deficit, leading to faculty buy-outs several years ago.
However, Chandoo wrote in the court filing, a January deal to sell the 14-acre property resulted in what faculty members believe to be nearly $13 million in college profit.
Property records show that the Costa Mesa property was sold in late January for $35 million. Representatives of Beg Holdings, the new owner according to the property records, could not be reached to comment on their long-term plans for the land.
“The college’s representatives repeatedly assured the law school’s faculty that the proceeds of the sale would be reinvested in the law school and used to support its future operations,” Chandoo said in the filing, which questioned whether the college was attempting to “loot and discontinue” the law school.
Whittier College spokeswoman Ericka Iniguez said the property sale had no connection to the law school’s fate. The college is currently leasing back the property, Iniguez said.
Both students and faculty have reacted with shock and anger at the surprise closure of the law school. College leaders have promised to help current students complete their diplomas, but questions about how many classes will be available and how many faculty members retained next semester and the semesters beyond remain answered.
Chandoo acknowledged that Whittier Law School has struggled with bringing up the percentage of students passing the state bar exam and…