Former UNH Law student sues school for $5M

  • UNH Law School, founded in 1974 as Franklin Pierce Law School. Became part of UNH in 2010. Courtesy

Monitor staff
Sunday, January 06, 2019

A former student of the University of New Hampshire’s law school is suing the institution for more than $5 million, arguing that school officials denied him due process and prevented him from attending other schools.

Joel Mateo of Boston, Mass., was a student at the UNH School of Law until November 2015, when he voluntarily withdrew due to an unspecified code of conduct violation, according to a complaint in Massachusetts federal circuit court.

Since then, he says, the school has not allowed him to resolve the issue and get back into good standing, which ultimately resulted in him being rejected from Suffolk University Law School and New England Law. He is alleging defamation, emotional distress and that he was denied his right to a hearing.

UNH School of Law has asked that the case either be dismissed outright – or at least the defamation charge – or transferred to New Hampshire’s federal court.

Mateo, who is representing himself, said he reached out to the school’s assistant dean of students, Frances Canning, in May 2017 in order to resolve the issue so he could acquire a letter of good standing for future applications to other schools.

Canning, he said, gave him two options: Either the school’s conduct officer could investigate the case and issue a ruling, or Canning could write a letter stating Mateo is ineligible to return until the conduct code violation was resolved and send it to the relevant schools.

Mateo said he expressed interest in the first option but did not hear back from the school. Canning then produced a letter that stated Mateo was not in good standing with the school and was ineligible to return to the program until the conduct code violation was resolved, and sent it to Suffolk University and New England Law.

Both schools ultimately rejected Mateo’s application.

Additionally, Mateo said he was told by Canning that the school would only pursue conduct charges against students currently enrolled in its program. If he wanted the issue to be resolved, Mateo would have to re-enroll at UNH Law.

Mateo attempted to do so last year, but was denied in June because he did not provide documentation of attending a licensed alcohol treatment program, one of the conditions the school asked him to meet should he wish to return when he withdrew in 2015, according to a June 4, 2018, letter from school officials.

“The Admissions Committee found that your personal account of the incidents leading up to your voluntary withdrawal from UNH Law, while clearly heart-felt, was incomplete for readmission purposes,” wrote Brenda Brooks, the school’s director of admissions.

“Although you provided a personal, historical context for your actions, the account failed to fully address any continuing commitment to be an attorney,” the letter reads.

Mateo said the series of events has damaged his reputation, and caused him such emotional distress that at one point he required medical attention.

UNH Law officials said Mateo hasn’t proved that anything stated in their letters to him was defamatory or false.

“Joel Mateo voluntarily withdrew from the University of New Hampshire School of Law,” said university spokesperson Erika Mantz. “We believe he was treated fairly and will vigorously defend his accusations.”

Mateo did not respond to an email requesting comment.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)