The trial of a 34-year-old Berkeley law student scheduled to begin Wednesday in Oakland Superior Court was reset after the judge held a lengthy closed meeting with prosecution and defense lawyers to discuss whether the case would be decided by a judge or jury.
Rick Young, a third-year law student from Pennsylvania, is facing three counts of disorderly conduct in connection with his 21-day protest in May against a planned parking structure south of the UC Berkeley campus. On April 30, Young installed himself at the Underhill parking lot at College Avenue and Channing Way, later fortifying his encampment with couches and a television set.
He was arrested three times by campus police in May for “unlawful lodging,” but returned to the protest site each time.
If found guilty, Young could be sentenced to as much as a year and a half in jail.
“We have the right to request a jury trial,” Young said Wednesday. “We may try to go in front of the judge that has been hearing it all along since he is familiar with the case.”
That appeared to be the outcome yesterday after Young’s lawyer, Oakland public defender Mike Sobel, and Assistant District Attorney David Lim met privately with Superior Court judge Marshall Whitley in chambers. The judge transferred the case to Judge Thomas Reardon and rescheduled the trial for October 20 at 9 am.
The trial had been expected to start yesterday. Five campus police officers were among the witnesses waiting to testify in the criminal case. Dressed in dark suits, they sat side by side in the front row of the courtroom.
Assistant D.A. Lim will likely call the officers to testify against Young, who staged his three-week demonstration to protest the university’s plan to construct a multi-story parking garage in the Underhill area.
Young believes student housing should be constructed there instead of additional parking spaces.
“I just think it’s socially and environmentally irresponsible to build a giant parking structure given the environmental impact and the need for more housing in Berkeley,” he said yesterday. Young is no longer living in the Underhill lot, where he studied by flashlight for his law exams last spring. He nevertheless appeared fatigued yesterday.
Attired in a blue dress shirt and slacks, Young slept in his seat in the back of the courtroom as the morning session dragged on, his head resting against the wood-paneled wall. Young said he will argue that his protest was a form of free speech protected by the First Amendment. He denied it was an act of civil disobedience.
“Civil disobedience means you’re breaking the law,” he said, “and I don’t think I broke the law.” Earlier this year the District Attorney’s office proposed a plea bargain in which Young would have agreed to plead guilty to one count of disorderly conduct.
“They wanted me to plead guilty to one count and then I’d get probation,” said Young, who plans to practice law when he graduates. But Young refused to accept the plea offer. Prosecutor Lim could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Young attended college at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania before enrolling at Boalt Hall as a law student in 1998.
He said the protest was motivated in part because he had trouble finding housing when he first moved to Berkeley.
The area slated for development forms a square city block bordered by College Avenue, Channing Way, Bowditch and Haste.
In April, the university announced a plan to construct a 1,000-space multi-level parking garage topped by a playing field, along with housing for 900 students.
The Underhill area previously held a multi-level parking garage with an astroturf field on top. But in 1993 the University demolished the garage after engineers determined it was seismically unsafe. The current lot can accommodate a total of 425 cars.