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Protester a no-show at UC hearing

By David Scharfenberg Daily Planet Staff
Wednesday October 02, 2002

UC Berkeley pro-Palestinian protester Roberto Hernandez and his legal team didn’t show up on the second day of the activist’s student conduct hearing Tuesday, drawing the ire of the university panel hearing the case, now postponed until Friday. 

But Hernandez attorney Dan Siegel said university officials left the defense team Monday with the impression that logistical problems would prevent the hearing from continuing the next day. 

Siegel said that the university told the defense late in the day Tuesday that the hearing would go forward, but that didn’t provide time to gather witnesses and notify Hernandez. 

“I just think the university’s totally at fault here,” Siegel said. 

Hernandez is one of 32 student protesters who participated in the April 9 takeover of UC Berkeley’s Wheeler Hall and now face student conduct charges ranging from disturbing the peace to, in Hernandez’s case, physical assault on a university police officer. 

The students, who called on the nine-campus University of California system to divest from Israel, face penalties ranging up to expulsion, although the Office of Student Life has recommended nothing harsher than suspension. 

The Hernandez hearing, the first of 32, began Monday but did not finish by the end of the day, as expected. Both sides agreed to reconvene Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. if university officials could find a room and make security arrangements. 

Siegel, a partner at the Oakland law firm of Siegel & Yee, which is representing students at no charge, said UC Berkeley’s Director of Student Judicial Affairs Neil Rajmaira told defense attorneys after the hearing that getting a room Tuesday was unlikely. 

But Rajmaira, who is prosecuting the case, said defense attorney Anne Weills, who is married to Siegel, provided him with a phone number Monday night and asked him to call Tuesday morning with an update. 

Rajmaira said he called Tuesday morning, only to get an answering machine. 

Siegel said Weills did not pick up the message, left on the couple’s home answering service, until after noon. She then called Rajmaira and Professor David Zusman, who is chairing the hearing committee, and said two hours notice was not enough to gather witnesses. 

Zusman pushed back the hearing until 3:30 p.m., but Siegel said his office could not reach Hernandez or defense witnesses by that time. Siegel acknowledged that Hernandez did not contact his lawyers either. 

Members of the hearing committee were incredulous. 

“I’m really appalled that he didn’t contact his lawyers today,” said Zusman, referring to Hernandez. “I find that, frankly, incredible. ... I’m a little suspicious about how sincere their efforts are.” 

Rajmaira made a motion to finish the Hernandez hearing Tuesday without the defense present, but the committee decided to reschedule until Friday. 

“I have a feeling that if we don’t reschedule, there will be trouble,” said Professor Paul Volta, one of three members on the hearing committee, perhaps referring to the tense political atmosphere surrounding the case. 

The undergraduate member of the committee, whose name is being withheld for privacy reasons, said he had made a good faith effort to get to the hearing and expressed his displeasure with the defense for failing to appear. He said the committee would not be “jerked around” in the future. 

Rajmaira accepted the committee’s decision to reschedule and emphasized Hernandez’s right to a fair hearing, but said the defense had wasted state resources by failing to appear. 

“I would like to say on the record that an enormous, enormous, enormous amount of university and therefore state resources have been expended this afternoon,” he said. 

Rajmaira said security costs, room rental and other expenses factored into the equation. He could not provide a full estimate, but a half-day room rental at Clark Err campus costs $175 according to the university’s web site. 

Hernandez did not immediately return calls for comment.