The Daily Californian Online

Ruling Relocates Lawsuit Against Professor to Appellate Court

By Aaida Samad and True Shields
Daily Cal Staff Writers
Thursday, February 10, 2011
Category: News > City > Courts

Following a court ruling Wednesday morning, a UC Berkeley professor's petition to dismiss a lawsuit filed against him was relocated to appellate court.

At the hearing, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch transferred a petition filed Feb. 2 by Robert DiMartino, a campus clinical optometry professor, to appellate court because he said the suit fell outside the jurisdiction of the Superior Court. The petition sought to dismiss a small claims suit filed against DiMartino by UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism student Josh Wolf.

Due to the decision, Wolf's small claims suit - filed Nov. 4 against DiMartino for his actions while presiding over the conduct hearing - is on hold until the appeals process is complete.

At the hearing, William Carroll, a lawyer from Schiff Hardin LLP representing DiMartino, argued that during Wolf's student conduct proceeding, DiMartino served a "quasi-judicial" function that entitled him to immunity from legal action.

Stephen Rosenbaum, a lecturer at the UC Berkeley School of Law who was appointed to speak for Wolf during the hearing, contended that DiMartino did not warrant immunity because his role was "educational," not judicial.

However, the ruling does not change the status of Wolf's lawsuit, said Nathan Shaffer, a campus law student and member of the Campus Rights Project - a group that has been assisting students.

"We remain confident in the arguments that we made and look forward to proceeding with this case in appellate court," Shaffer said.

At Wolf's student conduct pre-hearing conference in October, DiMartino did not allow Wolf's adviser Thomas Frampton, a campus law student and member of the Campus Rights Project, to speak on Wolf's behalf - something Wolf said was inconsistent with conduct procedure.

On Nov. 4, Wolf filed a small claims suit seeking damages of $7,500 for DiMartino's actions in the student conduct process stemming from Wolf's coverage of the November 2009 occupation of Wheeler Hall.

According to Wolf's claim, DiMartino breached his contractual obligation to Wolf by not following conduct procedures outlined in the campus Code of Student Conduct.

Because the procedures were not followed, Wolf suffered emotional distress, violation of constitutional privacy rights and interference with his property interest - the money he has invested in his public education - the claim reads.

Wolf said he began considering his legal options after receiving no response to an open letter to campus administrators - which he wrote in October - expressing concerns in regard to his conduct proceedings, the student code of conduct and protection for student journalists.

"The best response that we could come up with was a lawsuit in small claims court," Wolf said. "There is no process to remedy problems within the student conduct process, so this is my only method of calling on someone to assess this situation."

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