By Martha Raffaele CARLISLE -- An attorney for The Dickinson School of Law board members who oppose starting a second law school site in State College argued Friday that the school's governing board only agreed to the plan because of pressure from Penn State.
"While it appears the parties negotiated and contracted to change their arrangement, all of the decisions were procured by a campaign of mind control, economic duress and intimidation," said the lawyer, Charles W. Rubendall II.
Rubendall represents three members of the law school's board of governors who filed a lawsuit Feb. 3 to block the construction of a second campus on Penn State's University Park campus.
Penn State and The Dickinson School of Law merged beginning in 1997. The lawsuit alleges the two-campus plan would "unilaterally terminate" a deal that required Penn State to keep the law school permanently in Carlisle and maintain it as the primary location.
A five-hour hearing over the request for a preliminary injunction ended inconclusively Friday, with Cumberland County Judge Edward E. Guido ordering the parties to return early next month.
Penn State officials did not respond during the court hearing, but spokesman Steve MacCarthy disputed allegations of pressure.
"The notion that this board -- that was made up of all lawyers -- was somehow unaware of what was going on just doesn't make any sense," MacCarthy said.
The university simply wants what's best for the law school, he said.
The plaintiffs -- Leslie Anne Miller, Gov. Ed Rendell's general counsel; her father, lawyer G. Thomas Miller; and emeritus board member Tom Monteverde -- were among those on the losing end when Dickinson's board voted 17-14 to accept Penn State's proposal on Jan. 15.
The new plan calls for Penn State to keep the Carlisle campus open for at least 10 years while it develops the University Park campus, and it would dissolve the merger agreement and the law school board of governors by Aug. 1.
Rendell wants Penn State to extend its 10-year commitment to Carlisle, but he will not guarantee that the law school would remain there permanently. The lawsuit hinges on whether the law school board acted properly in consenting to the two-campus plan.
"I felt that we were intimidated and coerced by this university to enter this arrangement because of its size and its financial domination," G. Thomas Miller testified.
Dickinson's attorney, Jack Stover, asked Miller why he could not press his case at a board meeting scheduled next weekend, when the deal is expected to be finalized. Miller said that debate had been very limited at the Jan. 15 meeting.
"It was a very pressured-type, hurried meeting. I suspect that the Feb. 26 meeting will be even more so," he said.
Established in 1834, Dickinson has been largely under Penn State's control since the merger was completed in 2000.
In autumn 2003, law school Dean Philip J. McConnaughay proposed closing the Carlisle campus entirely, saying a relocation to State College would improve the law school's reputation and provide more joint-degree programs with Penn State. Community leaders in Carlisle opposed the idea.
Dickinson's board first voted in June to study a two-campus option at Penn State President Graham Spanier's request, but tabled the idea amid questions about whether the university would permanently maintain the Carlisle location.