Court rules that campus graduate must pay defendant’s court costs in conduct proceedings lawsuit

At a hearing Friday, a small claims court ruled that a recent UC Berkeley graduate will be required to turn over more than $700 in court costs to a UC Berkeley professor he had previously sued over his campus student conduct proceedings.

As a result of the ruling, Josh Wolf — a recent graduate of the campus Graduate School of Journalism — will be required to pay $747.90 in court costs to campus professor of clinical optometry Robert DiMartino.While the initial amount DiMartino sought to recover was $1,060.12, Commissioner Charles Smiley reduced the amount at the hearing, dismissing a $312 process server fee.

Burdened by student loans and searching for a job, Wolf said that in the coming week he will be discussing his options to pay the amount with Craig Bridwell, an attorney representing DiMartino.

According to Wolf,  he has already set up a ChipIn campaign online and may hold a bake sale or lemonade stand outside of the campus School of Optometry as a means of raising funds as well.

In November, Wolf filed a small claims lawsuit against DiMartino, alleging that DiMartino did not hold Wolf’s student conduct proceedings — which stemmed from Wolf’s role covering the November 2009 occupation of Wheeler Hall — in accordance with outlined campus student conduct procedures.

The lawsuit was relocated to the Appellate Division of the Alameda County Superior Court following a petition by DiMartino to dismiss the case and was eventually dismissed in a March 15 ruling.

According to Christopher Patti, UC Berkeley’s chief counsel, California state law requires that the losing party in litigation compensate the prevailing party for certain court costs that are incurred. In this case, the recovered costs will ultimately go to the university to reimburse a portion of the expenditures accrued from defending DiMartino, Patti said in an email.

“The University has a statutory obligation … to provide a legal defense to employees, such as Professor DiMartino, who are sued for acts that occurred in the course of their University employment,” Patti said in the email. “Pursuant to that obligation, the University paid the cost of Professor DiMartino’s defense.”

Wolf said he is not considering appealing Friday’s decision.

“The costs involved far outweigh any feasible option to make it happen,” Wolf said. “At some point, we have to accept this and not keep straining resources in a battle of wills.”

Wolf added that he is concerned about the university’s motives in recovering the costs, questioning whether the expenses incurred in the process of recovering the fees were greater than the actual amount that could be recovered.

“This begs a real question about what the university’s motives were,” Wolf said. “If the university is looking to be made whole, that’s one thing. If the university sees this as a way of punishing people who step up, then that’s a real concern in terms of both ideology and use of funds.”

However, Patti said in the email that recovering the court costs is part of the university’s general practices.

“The University’s general practice is to seek recovery of these costs whenever it (or employees to whom it has provided a legal defense) prevail in litigation so that public funds expended to defend non-meritorious litigation can be recovered,” he said in the email.

Patti declined to comment on the costs to the university related to the lawsuit, stating in the email that information for pending litigation could not be released.

Though with Friday’s ruling Wolf’s lawsuit has essentially come to a close, Wolf said that he is concerned that the initial problems with the campus student conduct proceedings that prompted his lawsuit have not yet been resolved.

“The issue still hasn’t been addressed,” Wolf said. “There is still a problem — if a university occupation is going on, people will want to get that story and write it down, but they could possibly face the same disciplinary nightmare that I went through.”