Tag Archives: Ave Maria School of Law

Behind Every Good Soldier…

There is a reason why Ave Maria School of Law is considered a top military-friendly school by organizations like Victory Media.

“All of us here are of a mind to honor veterans. We want veterans at our school,” said Kevin Cieply, the president and dean of Ave Maria School of Law.

Military-friendly law school led by a veteran

Cieply, the president of Legatus’ Naples Chapter and a retired Army Judge Advocate General officer, said Ave Law has made a concerted effort to appeal to veterans who are interested in a law career. The law school has done that in various ways, from naming its library the Veterans Memorial Law Library to establishing a resource center and designated parking for veterans.

“We want to attract people who are going to go out into the world and be change-agents and bring faith to the practice of law,” Cieply said, adding that faith-filled veterans are a perfect fit for that mission.

“We’re talking about people who just don’t talk about serving others, serving their communities and serving the nation,” Cieply said. “These are people who have actually proved that that’s what they want to do and that’s what they can do.”

Second-to-none financial investment

Perhaps nothing signifies Ave Law’s commitment to having veterans in the classroom more than the school’s financial investment in their education.

Ave Maria School of Law provides the monetary difference between the government tuition benefits the veterans receive and the school’s tuition costs, meaning essentially that qualified veterans can attend the law school for free, with no limit on the number of veterans who can be accepted into the program.

Under the federal Yellow Ribbon Program, educational institutions such as Ave Law provide additional financial support for veterans whose Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits do not cover all of the tuition and fees at private degree-granting schools. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs matches each dollar of unmet charges the institution agrees to contribute, up to the total cost of tuition and fees.

Ave Maria School of Law funds all eligible veterans who participate in the Yellow Ribbon program at the maximum benefit level, giving them a legal education that is free of tuition and fees.

With law schools across the country, including Ave Law, becoming more selective with students in recent years, Cieply said Ave Maria School of Law has enough room and scholarship money for qualified veteran-students. He noted that the school’s founder, Tom Monaghan, a Marine Corps veteran who is also the founder of Legatus, has committed financial resources to assist veteran-students who are not eligible for or have already used up their benefits under the Yellow Ribbon Program.

“By doing these types of things, we hope to attract more veterans to our campus,” Cieply said. “But also, I’m hoping to be a place where we can symbolize that we’re a law school that wants to not only turn out veterans to the practice of law, but also be a place where veterans are honored, where we’re seen as a law school that does the right thing in respecting veterans.”

Current and former military personnel who have attended Ave Maria School of Law said they have seen firsthand the school’s commitment to veterans, which makes them feel that the Naples campus is a perfect fit for them.

Like-minded faculty and principles

“They’re very military-friendly. Many of the faculty have strong military background, and a lot of them understand their students who are serving in the Reserves,” said Nancy Nevarez-Myrick, a 2016 graduate of Ave Law who attended the school while serving in the U.S. Army Reserves as an officer in an airborne tactical communications unit.

Nevarez-Myrick, 31, who is now preparing to enter the U.S. Air Force as an active-duty JAG officer, said she had always thought about attending law school and was attracted to Ave Law when she visited the campus. In addition to having supportive professors and staff members, Nevarez-Myrick said the law school never failed her in making sure that she received all her financial aid benefits.

It also helped that her professors understood her commitments as an Army Reservist and gave her opportunities to make up class work when necessary.

“I felt like my professors understood me and the school understood me when I was giving my time to serve my nation,” Nevarez-Myrick said.

Even non-Catholic veteran feels at home

Joseph Bare, a retired Army veteran who just completed his first year at Ave Law, said he decided to attend the school after visiting the campus and finding that the school’s principles and values matched his own.

“Most veterans you would find share a pretty common value set, and I think you would find a lot of that fits with Ave’s principles, mission and values,” said Bare, 47, who is not Catholic but found himself at home on a campus that he describes as tight-knit and very supportive.

The school has taken great steps to helping veterans and continuing to look for things that the school can do to meet the needs of veterans, to be
that right fit for veterans who are looking for a law school,” said Bare, who would like to practice civil litigation in the area of individual rights and liberties. Bare said he was always interested in the law but delayed that pursuit because he loved his military career.

Exemplary presence of vets

Cieply said veterans such as Nevarez-Myrick and Bare bring maturity, motivation, duty and many other intangibles to the classroom and to the Ave Law community.

“Veterans bring a sense of service. You know they’re willing to do things for others,” Cieply said. “They bring a sense of maturity. They’ve been out in the world and have actually done some things. They’ve had to learn how to continue with life in a stressful environment, and make other parts of their life balanced, which is very difficult at law school.”

Along with the unique insight and good personal examples that the veteran-students bring to Ave Law is a commitment to physical fitness and carving out time during their studies to keep themselves “fit to fight.”

“We love to have that atmosphere in the school where people are being physically fit and at same time engaging 100 percent in their studies,” Cieply said.

When it comes to military service, Ave Law reflects its home state of Florida, which has the third largest population of veterans in the country with 1.5 million veterans, according to the school’s website. The law school currently has 11 veterans in its student body and another four expected to attend classes this fall.

Along with Cieply, two other JAG officers have had leadership roles in the law school. Ave Law’s board of directors also has several veterans, including a two-star admiral.

“It’s obvious they have a very strong commitment to veterans and to military history,” said Bruce Barone, the immediate past president of the Legatus Naples Chapter who is also a founder of the Veterans Memorial Law Library. Barone described the veterans’ presence on campus as a “natural, positive fit.”

“The program is phenomenal. It’s designed to appreciate and honor people who have provided time and their life to military service,” Barone said. “And the program offers a tuition-free legal education, which if you think about it is pretty incredible.” L

BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer


A new captain at the helm

Ave Maria School of Law emerges from turbulent waters

Kevin Cieply

Kevin Cieply

When Kevin Cieply became dean and president of Ave Maria School of Law a little more than a year ago, he knew he was assuming the helm of a ship that had passed through some rough waters.

But today, the retired U.S. Army Colonel and former Judge Advocate General Corps (JAG) Officer is convinced the school has emerged from the turbulence that followed its move from Ann Arbor, Mich., to Naples, FLA. Cieply believes it’s on the way to becoming an influential, significant law school in southwest Florida as well as the nation.

Growing success

Despite a successful start following its founding by Tom Monaghan in 1999, Ave Maria Law lost students and faculty with its 2009 move to Naples, and it slipped to the bottom of state bar exam passage rankings.

As a newcomer to the law school, Cieply said he brings “a fresh look at the school and a look that is not necessarily tethered to that experience.”

Indeed, a string of successes followed the new dean’s arrival in Naples, although he credits many others for their work preceding his appointment.

In October, for example, the school won a favorable federal court ruling in its challenge to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ contraception mandate. Cieply said the case was underway before he arrived and that his predecessor did a great deal of work on it.

“I came in at the end — right before the decision,” he said, adding that the school is now awaiting a ruling in a case involving EWTN. “Whatever is decided in the 11th Circuit in that case will dictate how our case eventually goes.”

Another indication that things are going well for Ave Maria School of Law is its move in February from the bottom to the top (83%) of Florida’s rankings for first-time passage of the state bar exam. Also, in March, the Diocese of Venice officially recognized the school as a Catholic institute of higher learning. Then, in April, Ave Maria Law announced a $1 million gift and purchase of the North Naples campus it had been renting from Ave Maria University.

A member of Legatus’ Naples Chapter, Cieply said these successes represent work by many people. “There’s no way I would say they’re my accomplishment, but the school’s. You just don’t accomplish those things by yourself.”


Undergirding the school’s success is clarity about its mission, Cieply said.

“We know what our purpose is,” he explained. “We aren’t struggling to find our niche or our relevance. We know we’ve got a clearly defined mission, and I see us as the manifestation of Tom Monaghan’s dream to make Catholic education relevant and a change agent for society.”

Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, which promotes and defends faithful Catholic education, said Ave Maria stands apart from other Catholic law schools with its strong emphasis on Catholic identity.

Reilly said he’s been encouraged by Cieply’s confident approach in recruiting students based on that identity. “Even some faithful Catholic institutions tend to downplay their character and he has made it a strong marketing point for the law school.”

Thomas Flickinger, a member of Legatus’ Grand Rapids Chapter, was in the law school’s first graduating class. Flickinger said he thinks the school’s greatest strength is its loyalty to the Church and its ability to train future lawyers to think not only of what can be accomplished legally, but what is ethical and morally permitted.

“Many people today figure ‘if it’s legal, it must be moral,’ but we were also trained to consider the ethics of the situation,” he explained.

Every class he took, Flickinger said, tied into the Catholic faith — whether it was reading encyclicals in property class or studying Thomistic philosopher Germain Grisez in professional liability class.

Besides infusing Church teachings into the curriculum, the school expresses its Catholic identity by opening classes with prayer and providing two Masses a day, a crucifix in every classroom, and a chaplain on campus.

To bolster its Catholic identity, Ave Maria Law has made an effort to recruit students from colleges and universities listed in the Cardinal Newman Society’s Newman Guide, which recommends schools committed to a faithful Catholic education.

Newman Guide schools, Reilly said, not only provide an outstanding liberal arts education that lends itself to a law degree, but have a strong mission fit with Ave Maria.

Last year, he said, with funding from Monaghan, the law school instituted a program offering full scholarships for students graduating from Newman Guide colleges and universities.

Twenty new students are entering the law school this fall on those scholarships. They, along with other students recruited from Newman Guide schools, will boost the Catholic student body, which last year was at 63%.

The school accepts students from all faiths without shying away from the fact that it’s Catholic, Cieply said.

“We pride ourselves on having a special fidelity to the Catholic Church and its teachings as well as the natural law,” he explained.

“We welcome anybody and everybody that will respect our mission.”

Challenges and priorities

In 2014, Ave Maria School of Law was named the best Catholic law school in the U.S. for the devout by National Jurist’s PreLaw Magazine.

To sustain and build on its high bar passage rate, Cieply said the school has hired a director of bar passage and made curriculum changes related to bar exam performance —including the addition of a one-credit course, Legal Case Analysis and Skills Enrichment. The new course, which will be offered for the first time during orientation week this fall, covers critical thinking and reading, how to brief cases, and how to structure answers for law school exams.

Cieply said his greatest challenge at this juncture is to improve the school’s financial position. The purchase of the North Naples campus was a step in that direction — in part because it will provide naming opportunities for buildings, attracting more substantial benefactors.

Among his top priorities is getting Ave Maria Law off a U.S. Department of Education financial watch list, where it has been for the last 11 years. Its presence on the list is unrelated to management of money, he said, but indicates that the school is tuition-dependent and without significant assets, endowments or equity. The school is slowly building a sound financial base, he said, adding he is hopeful that with some additional gifts, it can move off the list.

As Ave Maria approaches its 15th anniversary, Flickinger said he sees the biggest challenge as continuing to build its reputation in the legal community.

“Too many people still don’t know about the school and the many successful attorneys it has trained,” he said. “But the focus cannot simply be on the worldly view of success. The school was inspired by the encyclical Fides et Ratio; both faith and reason must flourish at AMSL for it to be truly successful.”

JUDY ROBERTS is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

Learn more: avemarialaw.edu

Guns and the Second Amendment

Dean Eugene Milhizer contents that the right to bear arms is a natural right . . .

Eugene Milhizer

Eugene Milhizer

In the last six months the U.S. has been rocked by two intentional, violent body blows: the Newtown shootings and the Boston Marathon bombings.

Both events are complicated and in many ways unrelated and distinct from each other. But considering them together is useful to understand and define the range and limits of Second Amendment protections.

In the 2008 landmark decision Heller v. District of Columbia, the U.S. Supreme Court determined unambiguously for the first time that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms. The Court traced the right to the English common law.

Of course, both firearms and bombs were well known to the British and the American colonists before and during the Revolutionary War. As recent events too well demonstrate, both are potentially dangerous and can serve as an effective means of causing serious and widespread violence. And both conceivably could be subject to restrictive government regulation approaching prohibition. Why then do the Constitution and its precursor common law protect gun ownership but not bomb ownership? The answer involves the imperative of protecting natural rights that were recognized under common law and later enshrined in the Second Amendment.

The Heller Court, quoting Sir William Blackstone’s authoritative 18th-century treatise on England’s common law, referred to a “natural right of resistance and self-preservation” that predates the Constitution. These rights were well established under common law and were a proximate source of Second Amendment protections.

But while the common law is the proximate source of the defensive rights protected by the Second Amendment, the natural law is the ultimate source of right as recognized by both the common law and the Constitution. The natural law includes a natural right of self-preservation and defense. This is basic. As a natural right, a right to self-defense is inalienable. It can neither be bestowed by the government nor can it be ceded to it. This is because these rights are integral to a person’s dignity. It’s hardwired into our psyche.

While one can imagine scenarios in which a bomb is used in self-defense, common sense and tradition instruct that such instruments are inherently offensive. In contrast, firearms have been regularly and traditionally been used in self-defense ever since the invention of the flintlock. The Second Amendment’s protection of a natural right to self-defense thus helps define the range of instrumentalities that are afforded its protection.

The constitutional distinction between offensive and defensive instrumentalities is critical for contemporary purposes. Many dangerous things can be intensely regulated without violating the Second Amendment, such as explosives, poisons and modes of conveyance. So can mountain climbing and bungee jumping. The regulation of such products and activities presents pragmatic and prudential questions, not constitutional issues.

Firearms, the quintessential means of effective self-defense from colonial times to the present day, are different in kind. The government may of course regulate them, but not in a manner that unduly burdens the Second Amendment’s recognition and protection of the underlying natural right of self-defense.

In a civil society the exercise of natural rights and constitutional protections are not absolute. This is especially true in modern times with all of its complexities and interdependence. The government may regulate the unbridled exercise of one right when it would unduly infringe upon the natural and constitutional rights of others. For example, freedom of religion cannot shield human sacrifice, nor can freedom of speech excuse shouting “fire!” in a crowded theater.

The respectful interplay of protected liberties is among the objectives the Framers addressed when crafting the Constitution, and this objective should inform contemporary legislators when they engage in law-making. Consistent with these values, it would be imprudent and even immoral to seek a pragmatically beneficial end, no matter how well intended, if the means of achieving it requires unduly burdening a natural right that enjoys express constitutional protection.

Any new gun legislation must conform to the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, which is ultimately derived from the natural rights of self-preservation and self-defense. Consistent with these first principles, legislation can surely be crafted to keep guns away from dangerous criminals and the mentally ill without disregarding the inalienable rights of law-abiding citizens. All responsible lawmakers and citizens should join together to seek this proper goal.

EUGENE MILHIZER is dean of Ave Maria School of Law and a member of Legatus’ Naples Chapter.

Adversity breeds strength

Ave Maria School of Law weathers storms & critics, emerging stronger than ever . . .

Hunter Felknor could have gone to any of seven law schools after graduating from Ohio’s Miami University, but ultimately he chose a fledgling Catholic institution in Naples, Fla., for its mission and location.

On May 12, Felknor was one of 174 students who formed the largest graduating class in the history of the Ave Maria School of Law, an independent school founded by Tom Monaghan in 1999 to integrate natural law and the Catholic intellectual tradition into the study and practice of law.

Felknor, who recently interned with the Office of the State Attorney in Florida, said Ave Maria far exceeded his expectations.

“I chose Ave Maria with hopes that the people would have more of a sense of community – and that’s what I found,” he explained. “I couldn’t imagine a more genuine community. People there are concerned not just with looking out for themselves, but also putting their faith in front of themselves.”

Tumultuous start

Now led by dean and president Eugene Milhizer, a member of Legatus’ Naples Chapter, Ave Maria was conceived by a group of professors at the University of Detroit-Mercy School of Law who lost their jobs after protesting a decision to have a pro-abortion judge give the oath of commitment at the end of a school-sponsored Red Mass for lawyers.

They drew up a proposal for a new law school and presented it to Legatus founder and chairman Tom Monaghan, who funded the school through his Ave Maria Foundation. Monaghan has also acted as chairman of the law school’s board of governors from its inception.

After a successful start with founding dean Bernard Dobranski, top-level professors, and students, however, Ave Maria faced fierce opposition when its board decided in 2007 to relocate from Ann Arbor, Mich., to Naples. Some students and professors decided not to make the move to Florida, but others took a more adversarial position.

Three faculty members filed lawsuits against the school, alleging they had suffered reprisals for opposing the relocation plan. Some faculty members also sent a formal complaint to the American Bar Association, which touched off an investigation into the school’s ability to attract and keep competent faculty.

“The opposition was small in number, but loud in voice,” said John Knowles, Ave Maria’s director of external affairs. “It was a big decision and something no American law school had done: relocate from one part of the country to another. It was just a big decision, and big decisions are rarely uncontroversial.”

Nonetheless, by the time the move took place in 2009, Knowles said, a recovery was well underway. The ABA investigation found the school to be in full compliance with association standards — and that fall, Ave Maria welcomed the biggest class in its history. Fundraising continued to rise, culminating in a record year in 2011. And, by the end of 2009, all three lawsuits stemming from the move had been settled.


Today the school continues to thrive on a number of levels, according to Milhizer, who came to the school in 2001 as an associate professor and oversaw the relocation as acting dean.

Last year’s overall enrollment was the largest ever and the alumni rolls are now approaching 1,000. The last two years have been strong in terms of faculty recruitment, he said, and the school has just established its first endowed chair — the Reed Larsen Professorship of Labor Law, supported by the National Right to Work Foundation. The chair is filled by John Raudabaugh, a labor and employment law expert who served on the National Labor Relations Board under President George W. Bush.

Additionally, Milhizer said, the school’s moot court team was one of 16 to make it to the finals of a prestigious American Bar Association national competition. This year, the school also launched the International Law Journal, an online publication that explores international law issues from a Catholic and moral perspective.

Milhizer said he considers the chair, moot court competition, and new law journal to be three significant steps in the law school’s maturity.

Robert George

Robert George, who holds the McCormick Chair in Jurisprudence at Princeton University, said when he visited Ave Maria in the spring as commencement speaker, he was particularly struck by students’ intelligence and enthusiasm — and the quality of the younger faculty members he met.

“It’s certainly a good sign for the future of the law school that they’re able to recruit talented, young legal scholars who obviously are deeply committed to the Catholic tradition of the institution,” George said. “You can always tell how an institution is doing by the quality of students and especially its younger faculty. If it’s hiring younger, outstanding faculty, the trajectory is good.”

Academically, the school currently is working on improving its passage rate on the Florida bar exam. Milhizer said the school had years with both good and average bar results in Michigan, but since the move to Florida, the results have left room for improvement.


Meanwhile, further evidence of a turnaround can be seen in the law school’s independence from Monaghan’s foundation.

“We have become financially self-sufficient in the last two years, which is an important step in the maturation and development of the school,” Milhizer said. “We have to rely not only on tuition, but the support of people who believe in what we’re doing.”

Knowles said the school’s current fundraising priorities include endowed faculty positions and finding ways to subsidize student tuition. Last summer, Ave Maria accepted one of the largest contributions in the school’s history. The six-figure gift will provide a strategic reserve for attracting, recruiting and retaining top students, and providing for their tuition and other expenses, Knowles said.

For current and future students, the school’s Florida location provides abundant opportunities for career preparation because of the presence of a strong bar association, quality law firms and respected local judges, Knowles said. And because Ave Maria is the only law school in southwest Florida, students have an edge when it comes to competing for internships, clinical programs and mentoring opportunities with area legal practitioners, he added.

Knowles said he thinks Ave Maria was able to weather the relocation controversy because those who remained with the school banded together and forged strong relationships. “And they worked harder. They recognized they were part of a great franchise, doing something that had never been done before. Sometimes, adversity breeds strength.”

The school’s future could eventually involve another move — this one to nearby Ave Maria, Fla., home of the university that shares its name. However, Milhizer said, this would require a substantial capital campaign and donors who support relocation, adding that no such plan is imminent.

In the near term, the school is more likely to consider offering a graduate law degree program or devising ways to reach into Latin America and the Caribbean. Milhizer said the school recently began a strategic planning process, the results of which should be available within the next year.

For now, he said, “We would like to continue to do what we’re doing in terms of educating students the way we are.”

Judy Roberts is Legatus magazine’s staff„ writer.