Mike Koozmin/The S.F. ExaminerSuperior Court Judge Curtis Karnow handed down a tentative decision Friday that many see as key to keeping the school's accreditation.

Judge issues favorable ruling in CCSF’s quest to retain accreditation

City College can celebrate another win this week after a tentative decision was handed down Friday by Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow in the trial that many see as the key to keeping the school's accreditation.

In his preliminary decision, Karnow points to a ruling against CCSF's accreditors, perhaps giving the school that serves more than 70,000 students a second chance at a portion of the accreditation process.

The judge's decision may allow CCSF to resubmit evidence of the progress it made that ACCJC initially did not accept in its accreditation process.

Earlier this week, the Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges granted CCSF special restoration status, which gives it two years to come into compliance with all requirements to keep its accreditation.

But many in the college community, including Chancellor Art Tyler, have noted that restoration status is new, untested and overly stringent. It is seen less as a way out and more as another potential road to CCSF's closure, which makes Friday's decision from Karnow important.

ACCJC moved to preliminarily terminate CCSF's accreditation in 2013, following a six-year review process. Accreditation is required to grant degrees to students and to receive federal funding.

Quite simply, loss of accreditation would have forced CCSF to close.

After the 2013 decision by ACCJC, the school was given a year until its death date, but the process was halted by a lawsuit from the San Francisco City Attorney's Office. The trial's verbal arguments lasted five days in October, as city attorneys sparred with Andrew Sclar and other attorneys for ACCJC.

Ultimately, it seems, Karnow sided with the City Attorney's Office, which alleged ACCJC was rife with conflicts of interest, unfair business practices, and violations of state and federal law in its accreditation decision for CCSF.

Karnow agreed with the City Attorney's Office that ACCJC did not follow the law in four key ways: There were not enough academics on ACCJC's 2012 visiting teams that evaluated City College; not enough attention was paid to conflicts of interest with ACCJC commissioners; ACCJC violated federal regulations by not giving CCSF due process in the accreditation decision; and failure to properly notify CCSF of accreditation termination violated common law.

Karnow disagreed that having Peter Crabtree, the husband of ACCJC President Dr. Barbara Beno, on the evaluation team created a conflict of interest.

In addition, Karnow also disagreed with allegations that ACCJC engaged in unfair practices through its political lobbying with the Student Success Act of 2012.

City College and the ACCJC were on opposing sides of the Student Success Act, a major component of the city attorney's arguments in the beginning of the trial, but one they backed away from as the trial evolved.

The parties presented evidence at trial through five days of testimony and, Karnow noted, “many documents.”

The City Attorney's Office case effectively seeks a “reset button” or “do over” of the accreditation process, alleging ACCJC engaged in unfair business practices under California's Unfair Competition Law.

Karnow wrote that the evidence in the case does show ACCJC violated certain federal regulations, and a law known as “common law fair procedure document,” but ultimately “the evidence does not support a finding of any unfair practices,” he wrote.

“The People seek a judgment and injunction which would in effect erase the actions of the ACCJC since 2012 and restore City College to a 'clean slate' of a fully accredited status,” Karnow wrote. But “a court must first decide what of the liability findings are sufficiently material, or significant, to warrant any relief.”

Karnow wrote he did not find the liability deserves relief, meaning he did not find it deserved correction.

But he did find some of ACCJC's actions were strong enough “liabilities” to warrant relief on the part of CCSF. So the injunction he plans to issue, he wrote, would allow ACCJC to “give City College that chance to respond, and allows ACCJC to then take any action consistent with law, including rescinding or reaffirming the 2013 termination,” referring to the termination of CCSF's accreditation, which is still pending.

The next steps are outlined in Karnow's brief: The people (the City Attorney's Office) will now draft a proposed judgment and injunction for review by ACCJC attorneys and provide it to Karnow. ACCJC will also submit comments on that proposed judgment.

Both parties can then address to Karnow injunctions based on objections to his proposed statement of decision. The parties can comment on the scope of Karnow's decision, the potential impact of the decision on common law.

Deputy City Attorney Sara Eisenberg, a lead attorney on the trial team, said the decision could affect school accreditors nationwide.

“For the first time ever, an accrediting agency was found accountable under Unfair Competition Law and was told it must follow the law,” Eisenberg said. “The ACCJC must now give City College the due process it was entitled to.”

Eisenberg, who was visibly pregnant throughout the trial, said she is celebrating more than just the CCSF news.

“I have a great City College decision and a beautiful 2-week-old girl,” she said of her new daughter, Samantha Miriam Eisenberg, who was born on New Year's Eve.

“She did her part at the trial,” Eisenberg said. “She hung in there and wasn't born until the end. She deserves credit for that.”

The objections are due Feb. 3.

Judge Curtis Krakow's tentative decision on CCSF.

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Judge Karnow Tentative Decision in CCSF/ACCJC trial (Text) Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior CollegesBay Area NewsCCSFeducationSan Francisco City Attorney’s Office

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