California bar votes on closure of LA's Peoples College of Law as school's supporters rally

Anabel Munoz Image
Friday, December 15, 2023
State bar votes to postpone closure of LA's Peoples College of Law
State bar votes to postpone closure of LA's Peoples College of Law

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Nearly 50 years ago, the Peoples College of Law was founded in Los Angeles in 1974. The mission was to make legal resources available in underserved communities and the path to becoming a lawyer accessible to people of color.

"We don't have to pay the $50,000, $70,000 that students has to pay in other schools," said student Anabella Bastida. "This is a very community school that I really appreciate it and I am so grateful for it," added Bastida.

A longtime community activist in immigrants' rights, Bastida is in her final year of law school, just as the State Bar of California considered shutting the school down. "PCL is a registered unaccredited law school with a history of compliance issues 15 years in the making," said the State Bar of California in a statement.

Among other things, the State Bar said the law school lacks the appropriate administrative oversight to ensure quality legal education, lacks sound faculty oversight, and that it has been unable to assemble a team with the experience and capacity to establish and sustain compliance.

"Some of the details around the administrative capacity has been that the school has been traditionally ran by volunteers," said law student and board member Ismael Venegas.

The school said all their faculty are volunteers and that more than 80% are licensed attorneys, stressing the law school's work has contributed to important legal services in tenants' rights, criminal and immigration matters.

After hearing public comment, the Committee of Bar Examiners voted 9-3 to postpone the school's closure to May of next year, allowing the two students in their last year to earn their degrees and go on to take the bar.

The other five students would have to consider alternative options. The decision was described by some as a small victory and bittersweet as some students are left with an uncertain path forward. "The mission of the school is not just to educate us as lawyers, but also that our duty is to our community and to serve the most vulnerable," said Venegas.

Alumni of the law school include former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and current California State Senator Maria Elena Durazo, a longtime labor leader.