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.