WOODLAND — The so-called “Banker’s Dozen” crowded into Yolo County Superior Court on Thursday with five attorneys in tow — well-known San Francisco defense attorney J. Tony Serra among them — then pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges stemming from their blockade of a bank branch.
The 11 UC Davis students and one professor will next appear before Judge David Reed for a pre-trial conference on June 1, with the case likely to receive a July trial date.
The protesters face 20 counts each of obstructing movement on a street or in a public place and one count each of conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail. Obstruction, also a misdemeanor, carries a penalty of up to six months in jail.
They also could be ordered to pay more than $1 million to compensate U.S. Bank for its losses.
Michael Cabral, Yolo County assistant chief deputy district attorney, had said he would offer a plea deal of 80 hours of community service. On Friday, however, the defendants made it clear they wanted the matter set for trial.
Tim Kreiner, a spokesman for the protesters, said they would have rejected any deal “on the grounds that any continuance of prosecution is a wrongful attempt to prosecute political speech on campus.”
“The fact that there are charges at all is a bit of a sham,” Kreiner said. “It’s unfortunate that the university administration feels compelled to try to … refer its own students for prosecution for political dissent on campus.”
UCD spokesman Barry Shiller said in an email message that “the last thing in the world you want to see is 11 students and a faculty member facing charges.”
“It’s vital to remember that the charges were filed only after campus police received multiple complaints from students and others alleging that they had been prevented from entering or leaving the campus U.S. Bank branch,” Shiller said.
“And the blockades continued despite 12 attempts — six in writing — by campus staff to educate protesters about the risks of continuing their actions.”
The ponytail-wearing Serra is an intriguing addition to the case. He has represented the likes of Black Panther Huey Newton, as well as Hells Angels and members of the environmental group Earth First! More recently, he defended Greg Anderson, trainer for baseball slugger Barry Bonds, during the BALCO steroids conspiracy case.
Serra declined comment after the arraignment.
Among the protesters he is representing is Thomas Matzat. He has separately been charged with five felony counts of vandalism over $400 — which carries a maximum of three years in prison — as well as 14 misdemeanor counts of vandalism under $400, and possession of tools with intent to commit vandalism, a misdemeanor, for graffiti painted on campus.
Matzat appeared briefly in court on Tuesday. He is due back for arraignment on June 6.
The protesters began blocking the bank branch daily on Jan. 2, singling it out as a symbol of the privatization of the university and corporate greed.
On March 1, U.S. Bank, having complained repeatedly that UCD wasn’t doing enough to end the protest, halted its 10-year deal with the campus. (UCD has since filed suit, alleging breach of contract.)
The DA’s Office announced on March 30 that it would file charges against the protesters, who have been active with Occupy UC Davis but who chose to take the bank action on their own.
More than 5,300 people have signed a petition at http://davisdozen.org, calling for the charges to be dropped, and more than 80 faculty members have signed letters asking the UCD administration to urge the same.
— Reach Cory Golden at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @cory_golden