Judge Slams DeVos for “Gross Negligence”, Possible “Intentional Flouting of My Order” on Student Debt

Published on October 9, 2019 by Athena Pallas

“At best, it is gross negligence. At worst, it’s intentional flouting of my order,” said U.S. Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim, according to The Hill, adding “I’m not sending anyone to jail yet, but it’s good to know I have that ability. There have to be some consequences for the violation of my order 16,000 times.” Judge Kim was expressing her extreme displeasure at Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, after the federal judge found DeVos was continuing to collect student debt related to a defunct college, even after the judge had ruled in May of 2018 that the related federal loans were supposed to be forgiven.

The number 16,000 from Judge Kim relates to the 16,000 students of the former Corinthian College that the Department of Education contacted about repaying loans even after the ruling that the loans were supposed to be forgiven. For 2,000 of those students, they were not just contacted, but had payroll and tax refunds seized by the Department of Education. The Borrower Defense to Repayment program, restructured by the Obama administration, allows students to apply for loan forgiveness if their college engaged in deceptive or predatory practices, but the Trump Department of Education under Betsy DeVos has attempted to undermine that rule. Here it appears as if they went so far as to violate a judge’s order, in thousands of cases, but after hearing Judge Kim’s findings on Monday, the Education Department has vowed to bring itself into compliance with the judge’s order. It is clear with the suggestion of her power to impose jail time that Judge Kim means business. According to The Hill:

A federal judge in San Francisco rebuked Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for continuing to collect debt payments from students after she had been ordered to stop by a court order, Bloomberg reports. U.S. Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim was far from happy with DeVos in a hearing that took place Monday in San Francisco. …The number 16,000 refers to the total count of students from the now-defunct for-profit Corinthian College that were contacted about repaying federal loans that were supposed to be forgiven. In May 2018, Kim issued a court order that instructed DeVos to stop collecting loans from the former students. Instead, the Department of Education seized payroll and tax refunds from nearly 2,000 students, the vast majority of whom have not yet been refunded their money. …Justice Department attorney Charlie Merritt, who represents DeVos and the Education Department, told Kim that the agency takes “responsibility” and “will bring ourselves into full compliance.”

Judge Kim did not just issue a verbal rebuke. She also removed a hold on the original lawsuit Corinthian College students had against the federal government. After Kim’s May 2018 ruling that the debt must be forgiven, in July of 2018 President Trump’s side filed an appeal, leading Kim to put on that temporary hold. Now, though, Kim is releasing the stay, allowing the lawsuit to move forward, saying at Monday’s hearing, according to The Hill, “I’m so concerned about this violation of the order that I think the stay is gone. We’re going to do everything full speed ahead from this point forward.”

DeVos had no experience to qualify her for the job of Secretary of Education, and only just squeaked by a Senate confirmation vote by having Mike Pence’s vote break a tie. DeVos comes from an extraordinarily wealthy family and has donated lavishly to Republicans, leading many to contend that her post was obtained because of those donations and connections, not for any job qualifications she possesses. Let’s also note how out of touch such an extremely wealthy person would likely be with people who send their children to public school. DeVos has frequently faltered when questioned by the press and by members of Congress, stumbling on even basic questions about education. As you might expect from someone who comes from vast wealth, she is generally opposed to public schools.

Judge Kim, with good reason, appears to have lost her patience with the Trump administration amid this example of its refusing to comply with a court order. That frustration with the Trump administration’s intransigence, stonewalling, and failure to recognize the authority of the other coequal branches of government is being experienced on many fronts these days.

Featured image by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.