Berkeley Residents to Bring Lawsuit Against Campus Fraternities

Photo: Paul Ghysels, right, is one of the Berkeley residents who plans to file a lawsuit against campus fraternities. The plaintiffs allege that live-in supervision at local fraternity chapters is necessary to curb unruly behavior.
Kevin Hahn/Photo
Paul Ghysels, right, is one of the Berkeley residents who plans to file a lawsuit against campus fraternities. The plaintiffs allege that live-in supervision at local fraternity chapters is necessary to curb unruly behavior.

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Correction Appended

UC Berkeley fraternities are the target of a class action lawsuit filed yesterday by a group of Berkeley residents who allege that live-in supervision is needed to curb unruly behavior in local fraternity chapters.

Chronic alcohol abuse, littering, noise violations and incidents of personal threats were all cited by residents as grounds for the suit, which would be the first of its kind in the nation, according to Louis Garcia, the attorney for the residents. He said a cease and desist order is being pursued against the 35 fraternity chapters, which would require houses to temporarily ban the serving of alcohol.

Requiring fraternity chapters to have a live-in adult supervisor is the aim of the residents, who will seek a preliminary judgement against the fraternities, Garcia said.

Campus sororities will not be included in the expected suit because they have safeguards that fraternity houses do not.

"My clients don't have complaints against sororities because of two rules that they have that the frats don't," he said. "Alcohol is not allowed on their premises ... the other thing is the house mother. Sororities have it and we're not having the same complaints."

Interfraternity Council President Jeremiha Douglas declined to comment on residents' allegations because he had not yet seen the lawsuit. He said that chapter presidents met Tuesday to discuss the upcoming suit and determine how to move forward in opposing it.

Individual chapters will decide how to proceed in acquiring legal representation, he added.

Representatives from UCPD, BPD, UC Berkeley, campus chapters and city officials regularly meet to discuss how to improve fraternity-community relations, Douglas said.

"We were taken by surprise by (the upcoming suit)," he said. "In the last couple years there have been efforts to reach out to neighbors ... in general there has been a lot of improvement in the fraternity system."

But Garcia said that residents' complaints against fraternity members could only be rectified through litigation.

"With frats alcohol is available to anyone who shows up," he said. "It's fine to experiment, we're not saying 'don't drink alcohol,' but there's a limit. Our clients have tried, but nothing has been effective, so talking to the court is the last resort."

Paul Ghysels, who said his family has lived in the neighborhood since before fraternities moved to the Southside, said that he has tried to bring concerns to campus, university and fraternity officials.

"I sent pictures to the national chapter that shows pictures of how frat brothers broke into my home, puked on my furniture, in my driveway, in the streets," he said. "It was only when I showed them actual videos they believed me. I've sent dozens of letters to the chancellors, the regents, and got nothing. It's a city issue."

Douglas said alcohol issues are being addressed in the campus greek system's long-term strategic plan, which will be finalized in coming weeks.

"(Curbing alcohol abuse) is something that we have been working towards and we are continuing to develop programs for it," he said. "What is important is the mature management of alcohol and not necessarily the type of drinking that has been alleged in the lawsuit."

Kelly Strickland of The Daily Californian contributed to this report.

Tags: INTERFRATERNITY COUNCIL, FRATERNITY LAWSUIT, ASUC

Correction: Monday, February 22, 2010
The photo caption accompanying Wednesday's article "Berkeley Residents to Bring Lawsuit Against Campus Fraternities" incorrectly identified Paul Ghysels as the man on the left. In fact, he is on the right. This article incorrectly stated that the class action lawsuit was filed against 34 fraternities and was expected to be filed that week. In fact, it was that Tuesday against 35 fraternities. A previous version of this article misspelled the name of Jeremiha Douglas, the Interfraternity Council President.

The Daily Californian regrets the error.

Zach E.J. Williams is the university news editor. Contact him at [email protected]



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