HAYWARD -- Occupy the Farm supporters packed an Alameda County courtroom Thursday for arguments in a University of California lawsuit seeking to ban them from the Gill Tract in Albany, where they camped and farmed for three weeks this spring before being removed by police.
Judge David Hunter was asked to issue a preliminary injunction banning eight specific farmers and anyone else from trespassing or farming the land. The university uses part of the land for crop research.
Although Hunter did not make a ruling Thursday morning, he had issued a temporary restraining order on May 16 banning the Occupiers from trespassing or farming. The injunction would continue that until the case is decided.
Arguments tossed back and forth between Dan Siegel, representing the defendants, and three lawyers representing UC regents, included whether their return would cause "irreparable harm" to the regents. The attorneys also argued whether the land is public or private property, and whether a preliminary injunction would stifle free speech.
"At first I thought it was a slip of the tongue when counsel for the regents said this is private property," Siegel said. "The regents are a public agency. They are no more private property than this courthouse. This is public property owned by the state of California."
Attorney Kay Martin, who represented the regents, at one point said the property is private when she referred to a supporting case, but later said: "Regardless of whether the regents is a public agency, not all of their property is open to the public at all times."
Martin said the regents need the injunction to prevent trespassing and farming in addition to police and security guards.
"It's not sufficient to say you can control this property 24/7," Martin said. "We need something that prevents the defendants from going on the property."
But Siegel said the regents should prove that if the Occupiers returned, it would cause irreparable harm.
"The question is, have the regents demonstrated that there is irreparable harm, not just the threat of harm from malicious mulching, felonious farming and willful watering," Siegel said. He added that university police cleared the tract of people "17 days ago, so where is the immediate threat?"
Martin said in her opening remarks that the defendants have shown no evidence that the injunction would impact their free speech.