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Northwestern Law School’s late discovery of a student’s UPL conviction leads to litigation

Posted Jun 19, 2014 7:39 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Convicted of operating a law firm without a license, Mauricio Celis apparently decided to get some U.S. legal credentials.

In 2012, he applied to and was accepted at Northwestern Law School’s master of laws program geared toward international lawyers, the Chicago Tribune reports. But when Northwestern discovered Celis’ criminal history in March, just a few months before graduation, the school booted him out.

Celis sued, arguing the school never asked about criminal convictions; his suit was voluntarily dismissed on Wednesday, the story says. There are no details of a possible settlement agreement. Celis claimed he spent $76,000 in fees and expenses to attend the school.

Celis had contended he was a lawyer in Mexico before he founded a Texas personal-injury law firm. Prosecutors disputed the claim and said he did not have a license to practice law in Mexico or Texas. He was convicted in 2009 and sentenced to 10 years of probation. He still maintains his innocence. Texas Monthly wrote about him in a 2010 article called “The Great Pretender.”

Northwestern’s response to Celis’ suit didn’t dispute that it failed to ask about criminal convictions for the LL.M. program. The school’s lawyers said Celis should have known the criminal history was relevant. The school does ask about criminal history in applicants for its J.D. program, according to evidence presented in the case.

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