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UC Regents Abandon Lawsuit Against Gill Tract Farmers
The Regents request dismissal in face of pending anti-SLAPP motion.
Only two weeks after the District Attorney refused to prosecute activists arrested on May 14 at the Gill Tract, in Albany, the Regents of the University of California chose to abandon their lawsuit against 17 named defendants in the face of an imminent anti-SLAPP motion.
“We are not at all surprised that UC has walked away from what amounts to a frivolous lawsuit against a group of community activists committed to promoting sustainable urban agriculture on public lands. What they need to do now is take the next step and let the public tend the crops,” said Stefanie Rawlings, one of the defendants.
SLAPP suits (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) are a tactic used primarily by corporations to suppress First Amendment activities of their critics in order to burden them with legal fees and court proceedings. If the court were to rule in favor of the anti-SLAPP motion filed by the defendants, The Regents would have been on the hook for all attorney fees and costs incurred by the defendants up to this point.
“The Regents saw the writing on the wall: their entire case was based upon our clients’ protected conduct of petitioning public agencies, communicating on issues of public concern, and participating in a movement for food justice and food sovereignty,” stated attorney Michael Siegel, one member of a legal team that also included Dan Siegel, Vylma Ortiz, Neil Satterlund, and Ioana Tchoukleva. “Their evidence consisted of such heinous acts as running a website, operating an information booth, and offering to pay for the farm’s water.” Or, as Dan Siegel stated at a recent court appearance: The Regents were essentially complaining of “malicious mulching."
Occupy the Farm says that it will continue to organize for the permanent protection of the Gill Tract for the practice and promotion of sustainable, urban agro-ecology. “We have not wavered from our commitment to create a world-class working Urban Farm that is by and for the people of the East Bay and supports efforts in food justice, soil remediation and, most importantly, the transformation of our food system to one that is in the hands of the people,” says Ashoka Finley, an urban farmer and one of the defendants.
Ulan McKnight, a member of the Albany Farm Alliance and a named defendant believes that the UC dismissal is a point of progress, “As a resident of Albany since I was a child, I can say that we have been fighting for the University to do right by the community with this land for two decades. The establishment of The Farm, the community meetings and now, the end of the lawsuit are all steps in moving us closer to our vision of putting this amazing East Bay asset to best use.”