Lawsuit Delays Deadline for Wheeler Protesters' Hearings

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Clerks from the Alameda Superior Court admitted yesterday they had been required to order the UC Police Department to seal all police records on the 32 Wheeler protesters now facing student conduct charges. With the first hearing still awaiting conclusion, the order remains unsent.

UC has indefinitely postponed the deadline for all the hearings of the Wheeler Hall protesters-a result of the court decision to hear a case filed by the 32 students against the UC Board of Regents and Chancellor Robert Berdahl.

The lawsuit, which calls for the elimination of some UC police evidence from the students' judicial hearings, will be heard in the Alameda County Superior Court Oct. 28.

The lawsuit stated police records of the students' arrests at the April 9 sit-in cannot be used in the hearings because students received a "factual finding of innocence" in the Alameda County Superior Court in June.

The order to seal evidence was not sent to UC police because of a "backlog" in court paperwork after its office moved from Berkeley to Oakland in July, said Maria Martinez, court sections supervisor for the Alameda County Superior Court.

"We have a short staff and so much going on because of the move, which has affected a lot of the work," she said.

As a result of yesterday's ruling, the university has extended the deadline for the completion of the hearings to early next semester. They had initially been set to conclude by the end of the month.

"Except under unusual circumstances, a disciplinary hearing must begin within 45 working days from the date the notification of charges was mailed by the Office of Student Conduct," according to the Code of Student Conduct.

Dean of Students Karen Kenney said the university was spreading out the hearings "so that we can manage (them) better."

The Office of Judicial Affairs expects to hold nearly 50 hearings this semester, exceeding the average of five to 15, Kenney said.

UC officials said the court judge does not have the authority to alter UC's actions in the student hearings.

"This is a quasi-judicial case," said UC attorney Jeff Blair. "The judge does not have the jurisdiction to hear this case. (The defense attorneys) cannot quit and turn to the court."

The students should go through the university before turning to the courts to determine what evidence can be used in the hearings, he added.

But the students' lawyers said the striking of evidence in the hearings is a legal matter and should be decided by a court of law.

"The whole procedural stuff in conducting the hearing is something the court can (decide)," said Jason Cox, a lawyer for the Wheeler Hall protesters. "Otherwise, the hearings are unfair."

UC lawyers also said the lawsuit calls for the removal of too much evidence.

Only evidence saying the protesters were arrested by police can be excluded, he said.

The students' lawyers also alleged that the university is violating the Code of Student Conduct by only placing three members in the Committee on Student Conduct rather than the five members stipulated.

The university is limiting committee numbers to deny students a fair trial, the attorneys alleged.

"They clearly have multiple people, and they are using that as a way to short-circuit justice," said Anne Weills, a lawyer for the students.

But the number of committee members was limited to three because officials did not want to "exhaust resources" of faculty and students, Kenney said.

Weills said the delay would hurt Hernandez because the university is withholding his bachelor's degree pending the resolution of the hearing.


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