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Thursday, March 27, 2008

May Day Protesters Head to Court Requesting Government Open Records to Them

On May 1, 2007 hundreds of students, protesters, and food service workers marched from the Memorial Union on the campus of UC Davis, down Russell Blvd and stopping at the corner of Russell and Anderson/ La Rue. At which point 24 of them broke off from the main group and sat in the middle of the street. These students, workers, organizers, and a UC Davis lecturer were all arrested.

17 of the arrested protesters took DAP (diversion) and have had had their cases dispensed. However, the charges of failure to disperse have remained against seven who are still contesting the charges.

In January, attorneys for the protesters filed what is known as Murgia papers, asking the court to open up all the records of messages and communications between the University of California at Davis, UCD Police Department, Davis Police Department, and the Yolo County District Attorney.

According to a release:
"We believe this case may be part of a larger unconstitutional effort to silence the union and its supporters in this campaign."
"Just as the 7 defendants continue to be prosecuted, Sodexho workers and their families continue to suffer from blatant inequality and discrimination in their contracted out jobs. UCD is still the only UC campus or medical center to deny food service workers direct UC employment and Union membership. The UCD administration has said that they will make an announcement in mid-April about their plan for contracted out food service workers."
Yesterday, the Vanguard sat in on a Murgia hearing. Unfortunately, the court has granted an extension to the end of April. Deputy District Attorney Rob Gorman is handling this case and was nearly a month late filing a response to the Murgia claim. Judge Steven Basha while not happy with either the late filing or the absence of Mr. Gorman agreed to allow it over requests by the defense it be disallowed.

The defense is claiming that these 24 people were being given disparate treatment based on their activities on behalf of the Sodexho workers. That similar protesters who have been arrested in Yolo County have not received the same sort of prosecution. And thus the Yolo County District Attorney's office is using this prosecution for improper political motivates to stop demonstration and action on behalf of the Sodexho Workers.

The defense, which consists of three lawyers representing different clients, with John Viola out of San Francisco representing five of them, is requesting three categories of records be opened up in this Murgia request.

First, they want to know the policy of law enforcement around crowd control and first amendment issues. Second, they want communications between the university and the prosecutors office on AFSCME and union activities--this would be akin to a public records request. Third, they want police reports that show disparate impact in this case from other cases, by looking at previous police reports where prosecutions did not occur.

Judge Basha has held over this hearing until April 30, 2008. He had shown a number of concerns with the defense claim that will need to be sorted out and address. It appears the biggest concerns are that they show that there has indeed been disparate treatment in the handling of this case over past cases. And second that the defense not make an overly broad and burdensome Murgia request.

Is the District Attorney's office in fact prosecuting this case more strongly than past incidents? That remains an open question and I agree one that the defense should be compelled to demonstrate at some point, however, as usual I tend to side with transparency and disclosure. Public records laws if they were strengthened could in fact cover most of what they are requesting here. It does not make a lot of sense that they would be denied these basic informational documents.

The Vanguard will continue to follow the legal proceedings as it has the overall case involving the Sodexho workers and their efforts at becoming full university employees.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting