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Editorial Cartoon: Alabama and IVF
Editorial Cartoon: Alabama and IVF
Published March 1, 2024

Former student sues U for poor advice

Paralegals represent the University when the stakes are low.

When the University of Minnesota gets sued, they send high-powered attorneys to try the case. Usually. Tuesday morning, however, the University sent paralegal Mary Ford to defend a lawsuit brought by former University graduate student Linda Zinter in 4th District Conciliation Court. Ford, who has worked as a paralegal for the University since 2003, said she was prepared for the case. âÄúThese cases happen fairly often,âÄù Ford said. âÄúIâÄôve definitely done this before.âÄù Paralegals, who arenâÄôt licensed to practice law, are able to provide representation in conciliation court cases when a party âÄî in this case the University âÄî grants them power of attorney, University Deputy General Counsel Bill Donohue said. Zinter, also a certified paralegal, filed a lawsuit against the University in 2007 seeking $6,775 in tuition damages after she alleges she was coerced to take unnecessary classes in the spring semesters of 2003 and 2004. One of those classes, a graduate-level art management course, Zinter failed. The University offered to let her re-take the class for free, but Zinter did not accept the offer, Donohue said. âÄúWe feel like we fulfilled our side of the bargain,âÄù Donohue said prior to the hearing. âÄúWe feel like we have a good argument in our defense.âÄù Conciliation court, colloquially âÄúsmall claims court,âÄù handles lawsuits seeking $7,500 or less in damages. Similar to novelty television shows like Judge Judy , small claims court offers fast decisions on small problems. Often, if the University feels their opponent has a good case, they will try to settle before the trial. There was no settlement in ZinterâÄôs case. Zinter claimed her advisor and former Master of Liberal Studies director, Jack Johnson , told her he would not approve her degree if she did not take additional classes outside of her program. âÄúThey cannot force me to take a class thatâÄôs not a requirement,âÄù Zinter said. âÄúSee, they have total control over us students.âÄù The University brought Graduate School Dean George Green to testify on behalf of Johnson. âÄú[Johnson] felt that she [Zinter] did not have appropriate coursework relating to the topic of her project, classical architecture,âÄù Green said, âÄúand insisted she take that course to prepare her for the project.âÄù Zinter also claimed her study abroad trip to Italy was wasted because she was not allowed to bring her video camera, which she planned on using to film her final project. This is one of the factors that led to her not finishing her degree, she said. âÄúWas there no other resource you could have used for your project?âÄù Judge Gina Brandt asked. âÄúI was making minimum wage,âÄù Zinter replied, and began to cry. âÄúI couldnâÄôt afford anything.âÄù Both parties will be informed on the judgeâÄôs decision by next week, Brandt said.

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