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Judge Orders ‘Cruella’ DeVos to Testify In Lawsuit Over Loan Forgiveness

A federal judge in California ruled Wednesday that former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos must comply with a subpoena for testimony in a class-action lawsuit brought by former students of now-defunct for-profit colleges seeking to have their federal student loan debt forgiven.

DeVos, dubbed “Cruella” by Twitter for her cold demeanor and often inexplicable cuts to school funding, had her request to block a subpoena to appear for a deposition denied by U.S. District Judge William Alsup of the Northern District of California.

WASHINGTON, DC – DECEMBER 12: U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testifies during a hearing before House Education and Labor Committee December 12, 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing on “Examining the Education Department’s Implementation of Borrower Defense.” (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The suit concerns the lawfulness of the Education Department’s 18-month pause in issuing decisions on “student-loan borrower-defense applications,” which allow borrowers to seek forgiveness of their student debt if their schools misled them or engaged in other unlawful misconduct. Scores of borrowers asked the department to relieve them of their debt after Corinthian Colleges, a for-profit institution, collapsed and were awaiting decisions from the Department of Education on their requests.

DeVos argued that issuing final decisions on the claims is “time-consuming and complex,” but Judge Alsup said she was issuing “alarming-curt denial notices,” which contrasted with the basis for the delay in processing borrowers’ requests.

Citing the Supreme Court’s 1974 decision ordering President Richard Nixon to comply with a subpoena for White House tapes during the Watergate investigation and President Bill Clinton’s testimony while president in the suit brought by Paula Jones about his conduct as governor of Arkansas, Judge Alsup said that if the “judicial process rules to presidents, it runs to cabinet secretaries — especially former ones.”

Four depositions have been taken over the past several months, and Education Department officials who have testified “have disclaimed authority” for the decision to halt adjudicating applications from borrowers and “have instead pointed to the secretary,” Judge Alsup wrote.



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