CALIFORNIA — An underground newspaper at the Universityof California at San Diego has filed a lawsuit alleging that theuniversity is abusing the campus judiciary process in an attemptto stop publication of The Koala.
The independent publication asked for $1 million in damageson June 5 alleging repeated attempts by the university to silencethe humor publication. Koala attorney Elliott Kanter saida temporary restraining order was denied, but that the suit willcontinue once a decision is issued in a disciplinary hearing that sparkedthe filing.
"I definitely think that the only reason we are beingcharged is because of the non-politically correct nature of ourpublication," said George Liddle, editor of The Koala.
The controversy began when Koala members covered a meetingof the Movemiento Estudiantil Chicano de Azatlan, a Chicano rightsgroup, and took a photo of member Ernesto Martinez. The universitythen brought three Koala editors up on charges of disturbingthe gathering.
"We strongly believe that a media organization has theright to take pictures at a meeting that is open to the publicand that we should be free from prosecution and harassment whenwe choose to do so," Liddle said.
After rejecting an informal resolution that would have suspendedThe Koala from campus for one year and placed the publicationon probation for five years, the editors were brought in frontof the campus-wide judiciary board.
At the May 22 hearing, however, the Guardian student newspaper was denied access to the proceedings. During the meeting, however,judicial board chairwoman Parisa Baharian granted the Guardian‘spetition to open the meeting citing general University of Californiacode that allows individual universities to decide procedures"appropriate to the nature of the case and the severity ofpotential discipline."
Baharian, who is also a senior staff writer on the Guardian,said she decided to override the stricter San Diego policybecause she wanted to ensure students’ due process rights. Shebased her decision on the University of California at Los Angelesand University of California at Berkeley codes that allow accusedstudents to waive their rights to closed hearings when the chargesare nonviolent in nature. Current school policy allows for a meetingto be opened only with the consent of all parties involved.
University representative Cara Silbaugh refused to continueonce the board’s decision was made and walked out of the hearing.The Koala presented a limited defense, but the administrationdecided to nullify the hearing citing Baharian’s decision andreschedule the disciplinary action for June 5.
Baharian said she is frustrated that her decision was not takenseriously.
"There has been a systematic campaign of pressure tacticsand verbal blackmail by high-level university officials once Imade the ruling to open the hearing to media reporting,"Baharian said. "I believe my ruling was valid and I had theauthority to make it, yet the university went ahead and nullifiedit. It is quite apparent that the prosecutors in this case arealso judge and jury, thus there’s no reason for there to even be a hearingboard if it cannot operate autonomously."
After the hearing was nullified, a new hearing was rescheduledfor the Koala editors on June 5. The Guardian andanother independent publication, the Nightcap, were barredfrom the hearings but allowed to make objections on the record.
University administrators could not be reached for comment.
"The fact that the university has so vehemently triedto close this thing proves that they’re just trying to railroadThe Koala," Baharian said.