If the opening hearing for 32 students who took over a UC Berkeley campus building is any indicator, the total bill for the remaining hearings will be at least $400,000, according to estimates by university officials.
The university already faces $12,000 in hearing costs from the first trial of Roberto Hernandez, one of the members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) who face possible disciplinary measures. The university’s costs include room rental, between 15 and 20 security officers to safeguard the hearings and legal fees.
And though costs are sure to multiply as the hearings proceed, the price of not holding the hearings may be greater.
Berkeley alumnus Alexander Ellenberg is outraged over the pro-Palestinian demonstrations on campus last spring and says he may no longer contribute financially to the university if they allow such behavior on campus.
The 32 SJP students are among 79 protesters who occupied Wheeler Hall April 9, calling on the nine-campus University of California system to divest from Israel.
Ellenberg, who has given $25,000 to the university, is not alone in threatening to withhold donations until the university addresses last year’s protest.
Fariba Ghodsian, an alumnus of UC Los Angeles, wants to see the university “set a precedent that this [protest behavior] is not allowed on a campus.”
“I would much prefer to make a donation to Harvard than the UC system,” she said. “Harvard has taken a stand that this kind of behavior is not acceptable.”
Despite cries from faculty and student groups that the university should drop the hearings, particularly after the courts dropped charges against SJP members, the university seems intent on following through with the trials.
Hernandez and the other 31 students were cleared in June by Alameda County Superior Court for charges relating to their participation in last April’s sit-in. The university, however, has charged them with violating the Student Code of Conduct. If found guilty, they face penalties ranging up to expulsion.
In addition to the costs associated with 32 student hearings, the university will have to pay for further litigation in Alameda County Court. Last week, SJP lawyers filed a suit against the university, alleging that it is using illegal evidence and violating its own conduct code in the hearings.
In court, the university is represented by UC’s general counsel office, which handles all UC litigation. At least three attorneys – Michael Goldstein, Jeff Blair and Chris Patty – have been assigned the case.
Just last Wednesday, the cost of their salary for three hours of preparation and court time was roughly $350, according to university officials. In addition, the university brought in outside counsel, Robert Patton, from Patton Wolan and Boxer, to assist. Outside counsel costs anywhere from $200 to $350 an hour.
“This is unusual,” said UC Assistant Chancellor of Legal Affairs Mike Smith. “This kind of case may happen every five to seven years, but this is not typical.”
Smith said the university is up against almost a dozen lawyers including several from the National Lawyers Guild representing the students pro bono.
Another cost is the police presence. The officers each day, guarding the perimeter of the hearing cost up to $5,000 per day, according to UC Berkeley police Captain Bill Cooper.
And according to the university’s conference services, department room rental from Clark Kerr where the hearings are being held carries a price tag between $200 and $300 for four hours, adding about $800 to the trial costs each day.