Thursday, September 28, 2006

In Re Mason (9th Cir. - Sept. 28, 2006)

I bet the folks at Gonzaga Law School are really glad that Judge Tashima (belatedly) decided to publish this opinion, which was originally an unpublished memorandum disposition.

This opinion recounts the story of one of Gonzaga's typical law school graduates, Keith Mason. He gets his law degree from Gonzaga in 1999. And, armed with that diploma, he begins a string of exciting and remunerative adventures and occupations. His first job out of Gonzaga law school? A "process analyst" earning $26,000 a year. Wow. Exciting. He then takes the not-terribly-daunting Idaho Bar examination in 2000, but fails it. He then "upgrades" his job and, in 2000, becomes a "government contracts technician" earning all of $14/hour. A job he holds onto for two years, until 2002, at which point he's laid off. At which point he starts part-time work installing home siding. Making between $12,000 and $14,000 a year.

Remember, this guy is a graduate of Gonzaga Law School. And, yet, these are the best jobs he can get.

Needless to say, Keith is totally excited about racking up over $193,000 in loans in order to attend law school, and therefore earn a degree that adequately prepares him for his exciting future in the world of aluminum and vinyl siding installation. So, in a final (so far!) blow to his professional prestige, this 33-year old Gonzaga law school graduate declares bankruptcy.

Keith agrees to repay $64,000 to one student loan lender, and the district court grants Mr. Mason a partial discharge to the other, and requires him to repay only $32,400. But the Ninth Circuit reverses, finding that Keith has complied with every requirement for a discharge except for the requirement of good faith. Judge Tashima says that Keith should be trying harder to make money, and specifically faults him for not trying to take the bar exam again as well as for only working part-time (which Keith says he has to do in order to keep trying for a law job) rather than full-time. Keith's bad faith, Judge Tashima says, prohibits a discharge.

As a result, Keith is now back in the hole for the whole $200,000. Plus, by the way, all the court costs and attorneys' fees he's run up in the bankruptcy proceedings and in the trial court and on appeal. Nice.

Gonzaga Law School is, I'm sure, proud to have the "success" of this particular graduate highlighted forever in the annals of the Federal Reporter.

P.S. - On the front page of Gonzaga Law School's web page, it prominently highlights the school's mantra. Which is: "Expect Excellence". Hilarious.

POSTSCRIPT - Whenever I poke (even good-natured) fun at any institution or individual, I can always count on receiving some hate mail, and this post was no exception. Still, I don't think one can argue with the points I've mentioned, which are (1) that the working world isn't necessarily rosy for every (Gonzaga) law school graduate, (2) that Mr. Mason is probably pretty upset that he spent $200,000 getting his degree, and (3) that -- particularly given their motto -- Gonzaga Law School would have much preferred this opinion to remain unpublished. But, hey, feel free to disagree. And keep that hate mail coming. Just don't make the same mistake as one reader and forget the k in "f***head" and yet use two k's in the word "c***sucker". :-)