Ethics Quiz: The Overly-Trusting Law School

The almost lawyer, learning about the justice system...

The almost lawyer, learning about the justice system…

Mauricio Celis, 42,was expelled from Northwestern Law School, just before he was due to graduate, for not telling the school when he applied that he was a former felon in Texas,  convicted there for falsely holding himself out as a lawyer and also for  impersonating a police officer. Northwestern confirmed that it never asked him to disclose any criminal history, but argued that Celis should have known that his criminal record was material.

The school didn’t check on his background; it didn’t even google him. If it had, it would have learned that Celis was infamous in Texas, and called “The Great Pretender.” A prosecutor called him “the biggest con man in the history of Nueces County.”  He certainly was audacious, opening law offices in multiple cities, raking in fees, using his success as a fake lawyer to raise money for Democrats. Compared to his scam, Northwestern was timid. It just took his money, $76,000, and then expelled him without giving him a diploma.

Your strange Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz:

Was it ethical for Northwestern to expel Celis?

My view? Of course not. He wasn’t a fugitive. He didn’t lie. Why should he know that his past criminal record was material? Law schools have given degrees to convicted murderers, porn stars, prostitutes, and infamous liars, like Stephen Glass. I would assume that if there is information that a law school believes is material and dispositive, the law school would ask for it.

I think Northwestern was embarrassed, and knew that graduating someone with Celis’s history would make it look ridiculous. Well, the school still looks ridiculous, but now it also looks vindictive and dishonest.

I think Celis should either get the degree he paid for, or Northwestern should give him a refund.

And don’t worry: if he tries to get a law license anywhere, I guarantee that the bar association will want to know if he has a criminal record.


Sources:  Texas Monthly, Res Ipsa Loquitur



2 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: The Overly-Trusting Law School

  1. Law school these days is all about the money. I graduated law school in 1972; my three years cost me less than $10,000. Now it’s more like $128,000. When I started, Virginia had four law schools; now it has eight. The population sure didn’t double. BTW, in case you think my alma mater is some fly-by-night school, it was UVa.

  2. I don’t find this question difficult, and mostly agree with your answer. However, I don’t think a refund alone would be ethical. Regardless of his past, he spent a lot of time on getting a degree, and if they kick him out should be able to get some sort of reimbursement for wasted time. Letting him finish, and acknowledging that a previous criminal career is not their problem, would be more appropriate. The only caveat is that it was his lack of degree that led to him being caught in the first place. Given that, a desire to not give him the cover for future lies is understandable.

    Hmm… upon further thought, the school could argue that each credit he took was worthwhile on it’s own, and the schooling has still been acquired. They don’t charge for the degree (if they do, it’s a separate charge acquired at the end), they charge for the classes, and certainly don’t guaranteed reimbursement to anyone else. They have some cover for other reasons to expel though, so that’s not entirely persuasive.

    I’m not going to go back and re-edit my initial response. I find it interesting that I went from “easy and clear” to conflicted as I was writing it. Ultimately, I think he should get some sort of compensation, and the “he should have known it was relevant” is obviously wrong. If the college administration truly thinks that criminal background is relevant, then their failure to ask is a breach of profession ethics.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.