FIU First, Ave Maria Law School Dead Last in Florida Bar Exam Passage Rate; University of Miami Stinks

Debate rages over whether FIU has displaced UM as the best football team in Florida. But legally speaking, the Golden Panthers are pantsing the 'Canes left and right.

FIU sits atop the table for this summer's bar exam, beating the Florida Gators by half a percentage point. The University of Miami law school -- established in 1926 and long regarded as the state's best -- is sixth, a full seven percentage points behind FIU's decade-old law school.

Meanwhile, Ave Maria -- founded by Domino's Pizza magnate Tom Monaghan and relocated in 2009 from Ann Arbor, Michigan -- continues to plummet, finishing dead last with a horrific 47.8 percent of students passing the test.

Here are the results, released by the Florida Supreme Court on Monday:


Florida International, 89.6%  (120 of 134)

Florida, 89.1% (285 of 320)

Florida State, 88.3% (183 of 206)

Stetson, 87.7% (185 of 211

Nova Southeastern, 87.4% (201 of 230)

Miami, 82.6% (237 of 287)

St. Thomas, 77.9% (113 of 145)

Florida Coastal, 74.6% (179 of 240)

Barry, 70.3% (104 of 148)

FAMU, 65.3% (77 of 118)

Ave Maria, 47.8% (11 of 23)
Rumors are that higher-ups at UM are pissed about the school's mediocre results, but 'Canes can take solace in the fact that they aren't at Ave Maria.

Ave Maria was once one of the best new law schools in the country. Founded in 1999, the Ann Arbor-based university was competing with local rival Michigan for the best bar exam results in the state, if not the country, before it was even fully accredited.

Then Monaghan, the school's conservative Catholic founder, decided to uproot Ave Maria to southwest Florida.

Six years later, the law school is in shambles. According to Florida Board of Bar Examiners statistics released earlier this week, Ave Maria currently ranks dead last with an abysmal 47.8 percent passing the test.

"Tom thought the law school was so successful in Michigan, he could just pick it up and move it to Florida," says former Ave Maria law professor Charles Rice. "It was crazy. Absolutely crazy."

Although Ave Maria improved upon the February exam -- when none of its four students taking the bar passed -- it has slipped since the 2005 move to Naples. Last summer, 64 percent of Ave Maria students passed the exam, placing it just above FAMU.

Rice blames the law school's demise on Monaghan's decision to abruptly move Ave Maria to Florida.

"The problem is the way that it was done," he says. "You had this law school up in Ann Arbor that way dynamite. It was a terrific place. The first three or four years of that place were just exceptional. But as soon as they dropped the bombshell that they were going to move to Florida lock, stock, and barrel, it destabilized things."

Rice says that he and other faculty tried to convince Monaghan to gradually shift students to the Florida campus, but that the businessman wouldn't listen.

"Instead he had this maniacal idea: 'We're going to uproot this place and put it down there,'" Rice says. "But there was no Ave Maria University yet in Florida. There was nothing."

Rice, who was teaching at both the Ave Maria and Notre Dame law schools, quit shortly before the move. He continues to teach constitutional law at Notre Dame.

"If Monaghan had kept that school where it was, within 10 years of cranking out those graduates it would have been one of the most prominent law schools in the country," he says. "He had a great thing going and he blew it."

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Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.