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Tempers Flare at Tree-Sitters’ Civil Case Hearing

9 December 2008 One Comment
As Attorney Michael Goldstein waits for an elevator, tree-sit supporter Erik Eisernberg makes his voice heard.

As Attorney Michael Goldstein waits for an elevator, tree-sit supporter Erik Eisernberg makes his voice heard.

By Angela Kilduff —

During the protest, Erik Eisenberg, known as “Ayr,” supported the tree-sitters and sometimes acted as spokesman for the cause. On Monday, November 17, Eisenberg hurled a steady stream of expletives at Michael Goldstein, attorney for the UC Board of Regents, and followed Goldstein down the hallway of the Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse. Goldstein, accompanied by six UC Berkeley police officers, did not respond.

This scene followed a hearing for Regents vs. Galloway, the civil case filed on behalf of the Regents of the University of California by Goldstein.

The tree-sit, a 21-month protest that sought to protect a grove of trees beside UC Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium, came to an end in early September 2008. Judge Richard Keller issued an injunction in September 2007 and amended it in June 2008.

Any tree-sitter or supporter who was served with the injunction was forbidden from occupying any tree on campus or help anyone who was. Failure to comply with the ordinance constituted civil contempt. Punishment could include up to five days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine as well an order to pay attorney’s fees.

Judge Marshall Whitley’s courtroom was more than half-filled with supporters of the tree-sit. Emotions, not far below the surface, flared from time to time. Eventually, several were asked to leave the courtroom.

Although the schedule included 11 defendants, only two testified – former tree-sitter and Native American elder Zachary RunningWolf Brown, 45, and tree-sit supporter and UC Berkeley alumnus Kingman Lim, 27. Each had violated the injunction by briefly climbing a tree. Attorneys Bill Simpich, Dennis Cunningham and Carol Strickman represented them.

Before the hearing, Amanda Tierny, known as “Dumpster Muffin,” and five others had reached an agreement to accept a judgment of contempt and perform 50 hours of community service. In exchange, the Regents agreed to waive attorney fees.

Defendant Michael Schuck, one of the final four tree-sitters, remained in Santa Rita jail, where he had been since the tree-sit ended.

The understanding of what differentiated campus from university property was at issue for Lim and RunningWolf. In testimony, each said he believed the tree he climbed was on university, not on campus property, and therefore not a violation of the injunction.

After climbing a tree on Tightwad Hill, Lim hung a banner visible to fans in Memorial Stadium. In what RunningWolf said was an attempt to get a better view of the tree where the tree-sit was taking place, he briefly climbed a tree beside a parking lot.

Using various maps as exhibits, counsel for both sides argued whether the location of each tree could be understood as on campus.

In the end, Judge Whitley said, “The injunction I believe is not ambiguous. I think it’s clear.” He found Lim, RunningWolf and Schuck to be in violation of the injunction. He sentenced them to five days in jail, crediting time served for related criminal charges.

“I’ll order reasonable attorney’s fees,” he said.

Goldstein told the judge that he would file his request for fees in the coming weeks.

After the hearing, Eisenberg paced in and out of the courtroom while tree-sit supporters conferred with the attorneys.

Goldstein declined to comment on the case, saying it’s “not over yet.”

When asked how she intended to complete her community service, Tierny said, there’s the “sentiment that we want to find some sort of tree-planting operation.”

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