A law degree from the University of California Berkeley may soon turn into a huge headache for Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl. Former student activist and current environmental attorney Rick Young has filed a lawsuit against the chancellor claiming that he has made fraudulent statements to the public about parking and housing issues.
To some the lawsuit may seem a bit like tit-for-tat, as the university recently sued Young over some of his more zealous protesting activities — which include the sledge-hammering of an automobile near campus. University spokesperson Marie Felde characterized it as “a very curious lawsuit.”
And Young himself has even conceded that it is in part a “payback” for being sued by the university.
But the point of law, if proved by Young, could potentially have larger implications.
Young is accusing Berdahl of lying and misleading the public about how much housing the university has created for its students and how many parking spots it has been forced to give up.
“I’ve told both of these guys (Chancellor Berdahl and Transportation Director Nadesan Permaul) they need to rectify their errors, and they’ve chosen not to do that — so I’m suing,” Young said. “You can’t say anything that’s likely to mislead. He told the public that the university lost 1,000 parking spots but they lost 64 parking spots. He also said ‘we’ve achieved 3,200 to 3,400 beds’ and that is entirely untrue.”
Young says he believes the university has a responsibility to be a role model in the community and make an effort to create housing along transportation corridors and cut down on commuter traffic — from both students as well as staff. He also says he has attempted to get the chancellor to correct past statement but that the chancellor was largely unresponsive.
“He didn’t even give me an answer. He just says what he wants and does what he wants because he thinks there’s nothing anyone can do about it,” Young said. “ But I’m doing something about it.”
From the university’s standpoint, the lawsuit has not been viewed yet, so there was very little to comment on.
But Felde did say, however, that she believes winning the lawsuit is not Young’s purpose for filing it.
“[Young] seems to have something of a personal crusade against Chancellor Berdahl,” she said.
Winning in court would be an uphill battle for Young.
Jan Whitaker of the First Amendment Coalition said she is unsure if the “fair business practices” rule that Young uses as the basis for his “fraud” lawsuit would necessarily apply to statements made by the chancellor.
The spirit of the law protects consumers from companies that make false claims about products. It is unknown whether a judge would extrapolate that to apply to intangibles such as housing.
“He’s clearly trying to cast himself in a very positive light,” Young said about Berdahl’s statements. “And the truth needs to come out.
“It’s incredibly significant that the leader of the university has said something that is not true and has refused to run a statement clearing it up,” he added.
However, the spoken word, printed words and product guarantees are not measured the same.
If Young is successful in proving his case that an official statement made by Chancellor Berdahl was “fraudulent,” a conscious attempt to mislead the public and an overstatement of services provided to the public, it would seem that the same rule would apply to cross the board — appointed and elected officials, police officers, corporate execs and perhaps even mail carriers would then be held “legally” responsible for telling the truth.
Another obstacle would simply be whether or not Berdahl ever made the statements.
University documents do not show that Berdahl has ever made the assertion that the university has created 3,200 new housing units. But documents do show that the university has prematurely counted unfinished units into its overall housing stock.
Young says he will be serving the Chancellor with papers within the next 30 days.