August 19, 2004

Law school gets $425,000 from MCI settlement

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale's law school is using $425,000 from the settlement of a multi-million dollar national class action consumer protection lawsuit to create three endowed programs.

One program will provide annual support to five law school students who accept non-paying, public interest legal services positions each summer.

In April, U.S. District Court Judge David R. Herndon notified the law school it would receive unclaimed funds from a 2001 settlement reached in the Southern District of Illinois involving MCI over allegations some subscribers paid higher non-subscriber rates and surcharges for direct-dialed long distance telephone calls. MCI did not admit liability in the settlement, which totaled $88 million, with $10 million returning to MCI. More than 338,000 claims were paid.

In class action lawsuits, courts must distribute unclaimed funds in a manner consistent with the basis for the lawsuit, Dean Peter C. Alexander said.

"It's amazing that we would receive a gift like this. We are very grateful to Judge Herndon for his thoughtfulness, his vision and his belief that the law school would do something appropriate with this money," said Alexander.

"I'm personally pleased that we are able to improve the quality of life for our law students, both through the fellowships for summer jobs and by bringing a distinguished judge in to spend some time talking to students about important legal issues," he said.

Provost and Vice Chancellor John M. Dunn said the gift enhances current students' experiences in the law school, and helps them provide important community service. Much thought went into deciding how to best serve both students and the community, he said.

"We are honored that Judge Herndon would designate SIUC as the beneficiary of such a wonderful gift," he said. "We want to be out front in providing assistance for meaningful programs and giving our students valuable first-hand experience for the future."

The funds, received last month, are going to three areas:

$250,000 -- Joseph R. Bartylak Public Interest Fellowships. Named in honor of Joseph Bartylak, who served as executive director of Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation from 1976 to Jan. 1, 2004, the endowment will generate approximately $10,000 in interest annually. Five law school students will receive a $2,000 stipend to help pay rent, utilities and other basic living expenses. Priority will go to those students participating in public interest summer jobs in the Metro East area.

$150,000 -- William L. Beatty Jurist-in-Residence Program. The program will foster continued and greater participation by members of the bench in law schools. The endowment will generate approximately $6,000 in annual interest, and will cover the costs associated with inviting a distinguished judge to spend two or three days at the law school. The jurist will meet with students in several classes, meet informally with faculty and senior staff, and, if possible, provide an address to the law school community. Beatty, who died in 2001, was a federal judge for the U.S. District Court of Southern Illinois and Judge Herndon's mentor.

$25,000 -- Consumer Protection Award. The endowment will generate approximately $1,000 annually that will fund a cash prize to a student who excelled in the Consumer Protection course.

Herndon, a member of the law school's second graduating class in 1977, said the primary factor for designating the funds to the law school is it is in the judicial district where the case was assigned, "and I think they do good work." While Herndon had the discretion to distribute unclaimed funds, he did not play a role in deciding how the law school would use the funds. He supports the law school's choices.

"When I heard of the law school's plans I thought they were all tremendous uses of the money and in keeping with my philosophy of trying to benefit the people of Southern Illinois," said Herndon, who became a federal judge in 1998. Rickey N. McCurry, SIUC's vice chancellor for institutional advancement and CEO of the SIU Foundation, said the gift gives students important resources to strengthen their educational opportunities. It also enhances student recruitment efforts, he said.

"The gift is immeasurable in many ways because the fellowships will provide learning opportunities for years to come," said McCurry. "We deeply appreciate Judge Herndon's faith in our program."

Offering a progressive education to graduate students and professional students is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the long-range development plan that guides the University to its 150th anniversary in 2019.

Alexander hopes the initial Bartylak Fellowships can support students beginning next summer. Legal aid programs carry heavy caseloads and students will provide valuable assistance. But legal aid programs have limited funds for salaries.

"This puts students together with job opportunities so the student gets training, and we are helping deliver legal services to members of the public who desperately need legal services," Alexander said.

Land of Lincoln will "absolutely take advantage" of using law students in the summer to interview clients and perform legal research, said Executive Director Lois Wood. Land of Lincoln annually provides free, civil legal services to about 14,000 income-eligible clients and senior citizens in 65 counties in Illinois. There are eight service offices in central and Southern Illinois, including Alton, Champaign, Decatur, East St. Louis, Murphysboro and Springfield.

Alexander said the law school is one of 11 in Illinois and St. Louis that will receive unclaimed funds in a multi-billion-dollar class action case involving cigarette maker Philip Morris. Madison County Circuit Judge Nicholas Byron designated the schools to each receive 3 percent of unclaimed funds to enhance studies concerned with consumer protection and socio-economic areas of law. The case is on appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court.