Alaska’s first in-state law school will open March 2015, according to the not-always-reliable Internet.
But ask an array of state agencies and one of the institution’s alleged staff members about the “Alaska Law School, In God We Trust” and the reality of what’s promised on thealaskalawschool.com grows less certain.
The Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education says the law school violates state statute. In an online consumer advisory notice posted Wednesday, the commission said the law school is not authorized to operate in Alaska. Under state law, the commission must give the go ahead before a postsecondary education provider can advertise or enroll.
The commission asked the state’s Office of the Attorney General to begin drafting a cease and desist letter for the school by Thursday morning, said Joann Rieselbach, the commission’s school relations manager.
This marks the second time this year the commission has initiated communication with the Alaska Law School. It investigated a website with a nearly identical domain name in January, placing phone calls to the school that went unanswered. Eventually the website simply disappeared, said Diane Barrans, the commission's executive director.
In May, it returned under the guise of thealaskalawschool.com. The at-times kooky website, riddled with spelling and factual errors, asks for an $85 fee to apply to the law school. It’s looking to raise $185 million from individual donors, though the linked PayPal account displayed an error message Wednesday pointing to a problem with the account holder’s email address.
Despite its flaws, the website does intricately explain the law school’s staffing, tuition rates and academic offerings, from a Juris Doctor program that costs $43,000 a year for in-state students to certificates in criminal justice and public safety that cost about $1,500 a year. The website says the school will kick off what it’s calling the “Michaelmas Term” on March 3. It has already handed itself the honor of “the first law school in the history of our great state,” according to the website.
Daun DeVore is listed online as the founder and dean of the Alaska Law School, which also features photographs of a brown-haired woman, identified in captions as DeVore, posing with dignitaries including former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and members of India’s parliament. DeVore is also named as the person who registered the website through the domain name registrar GoDaddy.
DeVore proved difficult to get in touch with; she did not return numerous phone calls and emails from Alaska Dispatch News over the course of a week. She left a voicemail for a reporter Monday expressing interest in talking about the Alaska Law School.
“I hope that you can catch me before I start traveling,” DeVore said. She could not be reached again as of Wednesday evening.
DeVore returned a phone call to the state commission Friday. She was told to remove wording on the school's website by Wednesday at 5 p.m. that implied it was enrolling students or delivering education. She didn't meet the deadline, Rieselbach said.
Phone calls to the law school’s direct line went to a voicemail that says, “You have reached 20Lawguide -- L-A-W-G-U-I-D-E -- the main number for the Alaska Law School. For quality education, come to the Alaska Law School. That’s firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a blessed day.”
Two people highlighted online as Alaska Law School staff members provided conflicting stories about the validity of the school.
Marygold Melli, a professor emerita at University of Wisconsin Law School, sits on the Alaska Law School’s Board of Overseers, according to the website. The Alaska and Wisconsin websites both feature the same portrait of Melli wearing wire-rimmed glasses and a gray sweater.
When asked about her position in Alaska, Melli said by phone last week from her home in Madison, Wisconsin, “That’s news to me.”
“I have nothing to do with an Alaskan law school,” she said. “I don’t know anything about it. That’s the most accurate thing I could say.”
The Alaska Law School website also posted an announcement naming Richard Field the editor-in-chief of its Alaska Law Journal. It said he was “previous Chair of the Science and Technology Section" at the American Bar Association and the current editor-in-chief of The International Lawyer, an ABA legal journal.
From his home in Cliffside Park, New Jersey, Field said in a phone interview that he knows DeVore. He is actually a former chair of the section of science and technology law and the editor-in-chief of International Law News, an ABA magazine, he said. The ABA confirmed his position there.
“It isn’t a scam,” Field said about the school. “A woman named Daun DeVore has been working for some time trying to figure out how to set up a school. I haven’t been in touch with her for a little while, but I had in the past. I was helping where I could.”
Field said he met DeVore through ABA. He didn’t remember the last time he spoke with her, but said it was within the year. He said he didn’t know about the law school website and “is not active with it at this point.”
“It’s a big undertaking, but she’s trying to make a difference, a positive difference,” Field said. “It seems to me it’s sort of a superhuman job to start a university almost single-handed, but she’s a very bright woman.”
The Alaska Law School identifies itself on its website as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational corporation, though it does not appear on the Internal Revenue Service’s list of organizations eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions.
The school has not registered with the state’s Division of Corporations, Business and Professional Licensing, nor is it registered with the Alaska Department of Law as a charitable organization or paid solicitor.
Cori Mills, an assistant attorney general for the state, wrote in an email that Alaska charitable organizations soliciting contributions of money or property must register with the Department of Law, but there are exemptions.
“And whether the exemption applies must be determined on a case by case basis,” she wrote. “As I mentioned before, by law, we cannot speculate on whether there has been a violation.”
The Alaska Law School website says that Randy Courrier, the chair of the “American Bar Association Law School Accreditation Committee,” met with DeVore in 2013 and provisional accreditation for the school should begin by 2015.
A spokesman with ABA confirmed DeVore had informally met with a man named Barry Currier, managing director of legal education and accreditation at ABA, and the two had a short conversation.
The Alaska Law School has not begun the accreditation process through ABA, and it cannot apply for accreditation until it has conducted classes for at least a year, said a note from the Alaska Bar Association posted on its homepage last week.
Even though the law school hasn’t opened, it already has plans laid out for the future. The website says the school will operate in an Anchorage building off of the Delaney Park Strip while working to obtain space large enough to fit two ships -- an anonymous donation -- in the landlocked city of Fairbanks.
The website implies law school classes and seminars will be conducted inside these ships, though it’s not completely clear.
The law school plans to create The Alaska Law School World Law Library, “a global law library of Alexandrian proportions, comprised of hard copy law books, many in their original languages world wide,” the website says.
It will also host “a talent show and Reindeer Award (much better than an Oscar)” to honor distinguished lawyers and judges with the invitation extending to the entire Alaska legal community, according to the website.
“On one hand, the absurdity of the information is helpful, I think, because it doesn’t appear that it seems legitimate,” said Barrans, executive director of the state postsecondary education commission.