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Former Law School Editors Sue Alma Mater; Charge Officials with Violation of First Amendment Rights, Libel

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Former Law School Editors Sue Alma Mater; Charge Officials with Violation of First Amendment Rights, Libel

Article excerpt

Former law school editors sue alma mater

Two former San Francisco law school editors have filed suit against several officials of their alma mater, charging violation of First Amendment rights, libel, slander and invasion of privacy.

The San Francisco Superior Court suit was the latest development in a controversy going back to February and March 1990, when the plaintiffs, James P. Ballantine and Christina A. Dalton, published articles and editorials critical of the administration and board of directors of the Hastings College of the Law, a prestigious University of California institution.

The plaintiffs, both now lawyers, were at the time editors of the school's newspaper, the Hastings Law News.

In retaliation, the pair assert, Hastings officials demanded an audit of the paper and, when it was not submitted to their satisfaction, withheld good character references for the plaintiffs to the state bar and otherwise tried to damage their professional careers.

Named as defendants are Hastings Dean Franklin Read; general counsel Angele Khachadour; chief financial officer Joan Majerus; Hastings attorney Juliet Gee; the board of directors and 100 Does.

One of the Law News editorials called for the dismissal of Khachadour for "unsatisfactory performance" and added that she had "... in our opinion, embarrassed the College in front of the Legislature."

The complaint charges the defendants with conspiracy to violate the plaintiffs' constitutional rights, infliction of emotional distress and restraint of trade, and the board specifically with "negligent training and retention of unfit employees" - Read and Khachadour.

"This action arises out of the wrongful and outrageous conduct perpetrated by defendants against the plaintiff student editors in malicious and oppressive retaliation to their exercise of their constitutional rights to freedom of press and expression," the complaint states. In connection with the demand for an audit of the paper, the complaint goes on, plaintiffs engaged in a "systematic campaign to threaten, harass, defame and inflict severe mental distress on and interrupt the professional careers of the plaintiffs."

In resisting the audit, Ballantine and Dalton contended that the Law News receives no subsidy from the college and never before had been subject to an audit.

As a compromise, however, the paper hired a private, well-known auditing firm but its audit was not accepted by college officials, according to Ballantine and Dalton.

After graduating and passing the state bar exam, the plaintiffs were unable to practice law for several months because Hastings withheld good character certification for them to the state bar, they allege. …

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