A federal judge in San Francisco on Monday ripped into Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for continuing to collect debt payments from students with loans from a now-defunct for-profit college despite DeVos having been issued a court order to stop collecting those debts, Bloomberg reports.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim warned DeVos could face jail time over the move.
“At best, it is gross negligence,” Kim told lawyers representing the department at the hearing. “At worst, it’s intentional flouting of my order.”
“I’m not sending anyone to jail yet, but it’s good to know I have that ability,” she noted.
“There have to be some consequences for the violation of my order 16,000 times,” the judge said, referring to the 16,000 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 ordered 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.
The Hill reports:
According to Forbes, the Borrower Defense to Repayment program that was restructured by the Obama administration in 2016 allows students to apply for debt forgiveness if their college engaged in deceptive or predatory practices. However, when DeVos became Education Secretary in 2017, she essentially gutted the rule.
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.” In addition to the criticism, Kim agreed to lift a hold on the original lawsuit filed by the Corinthian College students. The hold had been in place since President Trump filed an appeal of Kim’s original decision in July 2018.
“I’m so concerned about this violation of the order that I think the stay is gone,” Kim noted in the hearing.
“We’re going to do everything full speed ahead from this point forward,” she said.