Pace law school accepts student rejected by St. John’s

By Madina Toure

After the St. John’s University School of Law rescinded the application of a student who did not disclose an arrest for a drug sale despite his record being expunged, the student received a spot at the Pace University School of Law.

In a 5-1 decision April 2, the Court of Appeals supported St. John’s decision to void the application of former student David Powers, 37, for failing to disclose on his admission application that he was arrested in 1999 for distribution of LSD and Ecstasy to an undercover officer. Powers sued the school in 2011.

But Bennett Gershman, a professor at Pace law school, felt differently. After learning of Powers’ story and discovering that his lawyer is Roland Acevedo, a former student of his whom he taught in a paralegal course at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, N.Y., he wanted to help out.

He said Powers’ arrest was a long time ago and he did very well in school, noting that courts typically defer to law schools, college administrators and high school administrators in cases like this.

Gershman was able to convince David Yassky, the law school’s dean, to consider giving Powers a chance, and he did. “We felt that we were acting responsibly and properly in looking at him and deciding to give him a second chance and we decided to give him a second chance and we haven’t heard anybody say we did anything wrong,” he said.

Powers, who received his masters degree in taxation at Pace’s New York City campus in 2005, started Monday as a second-year law student at the White Plains campus.

Pace accepted 30 out of 34 credits he got from St. John’s and a Santa Clara University program in Hong Kong in which he took law classes.

He is paying $20,000 a year but received a $25,000 scholarship.

“I think that without him (Gershman) doing that, I wouldn’t have had this opportunity,” Powers said. “Right now, I’m just feeling extremely excited, extremely grateful. I’m happy to be here attending school and I hope that I can do well and use this degree somehow to give back and help others.”

The court decision was upheld despite the fact that Powers, who lived in Forest Hills at the time, did a rehabilitation program that dropped his charge to possession and had his record expunged in 2005.

A Pace law school spokeswoman said the school does not have “hard and fast rules,” noting that each application is reviewed individually.

“His (Yassky’s) position was how hard he had worked since then and that there shouldn’t be a lifelong consequence of a bad decision when you’re 20 years old and that was what it really came down to,” the spokeswoman said.

Acevedo said he made the connection between Powers and Gershman and that Pace welcomed Powers with open arms.

“Pace realized that when people are young, one of the things that come with that is judgment that’s not quite refined yet,” he said. “He made a mistake. He paid for that mistake.”

Joseph Oliva, St. John’s general counsel, wished him success in his studies but said that its decision was backed by the courts.

“The decisions made with regard to the enrollment status of Mr. Powers at St. John’s School of Law were based upon his misrepresentation of his criminal history,” Oliva said in a statement.

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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