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The "Rich Irony" of One Lawsuit

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Courthouse News this morning brings us The Case of the For-Profit Vocational School vs. The Personal-Injury Law Firm. The former is Rhodes Colleges, a California-based chain of campuses that offers courses in everything from criminal justice to HVAC repair (maybe you've seen the ads?). Locally, Rhodes has three DFW locations (under its Everest College brand name), including one near Mockingbird Station. Then there's Van Wey & Johnson just south on Central Expressway on Monticello Avenue, which says on its Web site that Everest engages in "educational fraud" and claims to "have represented hundreds of students in confronting educational fraud at Everest College and other for-profit educational institutions."

According to Rhodes, attorneys at the firm, including namesake Julie Johnson, have gone even further: "Johnson paid a recruiter to stand just off of School property and to pass out business cards and materials to students leaving class," alleges last week's filing, which accuses Johnson of "publicly defaming the School and luring students with enticing and false promises of tuition recovery and other cash rewards."

According to the Google Machine, Rhodes and Everest are actually subsidiary schools of Corinthian Colleges, which, in 2007, was the subject of a lengthy investigation by the California Office of the Attorney General. The AG's office filed suit against Corinthian alleging unlawful business practices, including promising more than it delivers, and Corinthian settled by offering to dole out $5.8 million to students.

According to Corinthian's most recent quarterly report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, in September of last year, 13 former students at its Dallas-area campuses filed suit, alleging "violations of Texas' Deceptive Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act, breach of contract and fraud related to alleged pre-enrollment representations regarding credit transfer, quality of education and outcomes."

But Corinthian (or Rhodes or Everest or whatever) claims Johnson and the firm began making its claims of educational fraud well before it filed the suit, and that Van Wey & Johnson have didn't have even one suit against Everest when it began the postings on its Web site, much less hundreds of clients. And it also says in its SEC filing that it "believes the petition is without merit and intends to vigorously defend itself against these allegations." Then there's this, from the suit:

There is rich irony when attorneys claiming their practice protects consumers from false and deceptive trade practices engage in that very behavior to attract -- and profit from --- those very same consumers, hoodwinking them into becoming clients. That irony becomes actionable when the law firm and individual attorneys' actions cross the line into libel and fraud. Such is the case with Van Wey & Johnson and its principals (collectively "Johnson").

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