Arizona Attorney Candidate Who Wants To Punish Charter Schools Once Helped Run De-Accredited Law School

An Arizona prosecutor candidate who has pledged to target charter schools for allegedly failing to educate their students and unjustly enriching their owners previously helped lead an expensive law school that lost its accreditation after it failed to prepare students for careers in law.

Julie Gunnigle, candidate for Maricopa County Attorney, which is the third-largest prosecutor office in the U.S., has long been a vocal critic of corruption in charter schools, arguing the schools often fail their students or even close “overnight” and abandon their students, and has vowed to prosecute leaders of charter schools engaged in corruption. However, according to documents obtained by the Daily Caller News Foundation, Gunnigle previously served as Dean of Students at Arizona Summit Law School, which itself was forced to closed and lost its accreditation after failing to prepare students to pass the bar exam.

For instance, in 2018, Gunnigle stated that charter schools need oversight, accountability and transparency regarding their financial spending, especially if they fail to successfully educate kids, during an Arizona legislature debate, lambasting the CEOs of charter schools for raking in profits despite poor educational performance.

However, Gunnigle herself helped oversee a law school that at one time was charging more than $40,000 in tuition, despite bar passage rates well below other universities in the state such as Arizona State University (ASU) and the University of Arizona (UA). In July 2017, the school’s total bar passage rate was roughly 20%, compared to 72% for ASU and 67% for UA.

In 2016, the passing rate of students taking the bar exam from Arizona Summit Law School, formally known as Phoenix Law School, fell to 24.6%, according to the Arizona Judicial Branch. The school was placed on probation, all while charging more than $40,000 for tuition, because of its failure to prepare students academically in 2017, and then in 2018 was revoked of its law school accreditation by the American Bar Association.

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Gunnigle began at Arizona Summit Law school in 2012 as an assistant professor of professional practice, according to court depositions. She was then promoted to Dean of Students and worked at the school until January 2018, though it is unclear for how long and at which time she served as dean.

Despite her previous leadership position at the failed private law school, Gunnigle has been a critic of alternatives to public school, even attending an anti-school choice event and posting images of activists protesting against a possible expansion of vouchers for charter schools.

“Good morning to everyone (except those voting to expand vouchers and defund public schools)!” the post read.

She criticized corruption in charter schools in a Facebook post, sharing an article from the Detroit Free Press about a Detroit charter school that abruptly announced its closing, giving only a week’s notice. The school closed after the Michigan Department of Education had to intervene due to the schools’ low performance rate.

However, Arizona Summit Law School suggested that students transfer after it announced that it would not be offering classes in the 2018 fall semester, the Arizona Republic reported. The announcement was made less than two weeks before students were set to return to campus for the upcoming school year, and the school then closed shortly after.

Gunnigle similarly tweeted an article by the Arizona Republic about one in four Arizona charter schools showing “financial red flags” as their closing loomed due to a lack of poor leadership and oversight. In 2019, Gunnigle went on to say in an interview that she would prosecute school administration who were involved in “public corruption” if she were to be elected.

“This is YOUR money and one in four charter schools do not meet financial health measures and could close within a year,” Gunnigle tweeted. “Lack of transparency hurts everyone (especially our students).”

In 2020, Gunnigle called contracts for charter schools “insider-bidding schemes” in a video interview with Eric Kurland, a former Democratic candidate for the Arizona House of Representatives.

Gunnigle lost the Maricopa County Attorney race in 2020 by 1.5% in a previous attempt for the office, her website stated.

Gunnigle’s campaign did not respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

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