The Sather Gate on the UC Berkeley campus. (Photo/Tristan Harward via Wikimedia Commons)
The Sather Gate on the UC Berkeley campus. (Photo/Tristan Harward via Wikimedia Commons)

UC Berkeley hit with public records suit from pro-Israel group

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An East Coast–based nonprofit dedicated to fighting what it calls  “the resurgent problem of anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism on university campuses” is suing UC Berkeley for access to public records under California transparency laws.

Filed April 26 in the Superior Court of California in Alameda County by the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, the suit alleges that UC Berkeley failed to meet its legal responsibility to make records available per the California Public Records Act. The legal advocacy group made three information and records requests to the university, all of which were denied or delayed, court filings show.

UC Berkeley campus spokesman Dan Mogulof, as quoted in the Daily Californian,  explained the university’s position, in part, by saying that the number of documents involved in the requests adds up to almost 3,000, and that the office handling CPRA requests is staffed by only two people.

Rachel Lerman, vice chair and general counsel for the Brandeis Center, told J. Monday that the lawsuit is standard practice for the center when their records requests are denied.

“That’s all this lawsuit is about,” Lerman said. “If there’s really thousands of documents dealing with antisemitism at Berkeley, that sounds like something in the public interest.”

According to court filings, Brandeis Center lawyers are looking to access correspondence between Berkeley Law administrators, Berkeley Law offices and the UC Berkeley Office of the Chancellor pertaining to a bylaw banning pro-Zionist speakers adopted by nearly a dozen student affinity groups in the law school last August.

A first request filed in December 2022 was denied, and a second was filed in January, according to the Brandeis Center. The center also said it had requested records from the Associated Students of the University of California related to two meetings at which senators failed to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism.

The university provided the center with a copy of an email chain for the initial requests, filings show. In its response, it claimed that the records requests pertained to “thousands of potentially responsive documents between August 2022 and October 2022 alone.”

Mogulof told J. that the university has been working with the center to respond to its requests. Some of the documents the lawyers are seeking are not available to the university, he said, such as records of ASUC meetings (ASUC is an independent organization).

“We believe the campus is complying with its obligation to respond to the requests,” Mogulof said. “We will continue to do so, irrespective of the filing of the lawsuit.”

Per the CPRA, recipients of public records act requests must respond within 10 days, though it is possible to delay if records are difficult to gather, numerous or require further research. Recipients can also refuse to turn over records if they fall under certain exceptions, such as personnel or police files.

“The campus isn’t intentionally withholding any documents that are not subject to a lawful exception from disclosure,” Mogulof said.

The lawsuit follows a separate complaint filed by two lawyers last year alleging discrimination against Jewish students stemming from the prohibition on pro-Israel speakers. In December, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights told the lawyers, Arsen Ostrovsky and Gabriel Groisman, it would investigate their claim.

With its national focus, the Brandeis Center has made legal complaints against the University of Vermont, the State University of New York at New Paltz and USC, among other colleges and universities. USC is currently under investigation for the treatment of Rose Ritch, a student government vice president who stepped down after being harassed for her support of Israel.

In the suit against UC Berkeley, Lerman said the Brandeis Center is taking it one step at a time.

“We want to do what we can to protect the rights of Jews on this campus and any other campus,” Lerman told J.

Lillian Ilsley-Greene
Lillian Ilsley-Greene

Lillian Ilsley-Greene was a staff writer at J. from 2022-2023.