Thursday, October 26, 2006
High Court Will Not Revive ‘Shock Jock’s Suit Against College
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday left standing a ruling by this district’s Court of Appeal that a former Occidental College student-radio “shock jock” lost his right to sue the school for an alleged free-speech violation once he graduated.
At their weekly conference in San Francisco, the justices voted 6-1 not to review Div. Four’s Aug. 16 decision that a suit under the “Leonard Law”—which prohibits colleges from disciplining a student for speech that would be protected by the First Amendment if it occurred off campus— must be filed while the plaintiff is still enrolled.
Only Justice Carlos Moreno voted to review that ruling. The court also rejected a request by the First Amendment Project, an Oakland-based advocacy group for artists and journalists, that the opinion by Presiding Justice Norman Epstein be depublished.
The plaintiff, Jason Antebi, attended Occidental, a private, liberal-arts college in Eagle Rock, from 2000 until he graduated in 2004. During that time he had a radio show on the school-run station consisting of political satire, parody, and provocative humor broadly targeting persons on the basis of religion, gender and political affiliation.
Antebi alleged that his outspokenness both on the radio and in student council meetings caused some students to dislike him. Three of them published statements that he was racist and anti-Semitic and that he harassed women.
After his complaint against the three was dismissed by Dean of Students Frank Ayala, who told Antebi to “fight [his] own battles,” Antebi alleged, he used his show to do just that. He allegedly made insulting comments attacking satirical characters based on the three students and others, and had sexual discussions on the air.
The three students filed complaints against Antebi alleging sexual harassment based upon his on-the-air remarks. Ayala removed Antebi from the radio show and, after an investigation of these and other complaints, concluded that Antebi’s radio program violated the school’s policy against hostile environment and sexual and gender harassment.
In his complaint, filed not long after he graduated, Antebi alleged that he not only was censored in violation of the Leonard Law, but was subjected to various torts, including invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and defamation by the school’s general counsel.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jane Johnson sustained demurrers to all causes of action.
The Court of Appeal said the trial judge was correct, except as to the defamation cause of action.
Other Conference Action
In unpublished portions of his opinion, Epstein explained that the other tort claims were barred because a student at a private college may only challenge the fairness of its disciplinary procedures through an administrative mandamus proceeding, but that the defamation claim was distinct.
Epstein wrote that the allegations in Antebi’s defamation cause of action—that the school’s general counsel, Sandra Cooper, yelled into a public hallway at Antebi calling him “racist,” “sexist,” “misogynist,” “anti-Semite,” “homophobe,” “unethical,” “immoral,” and “trash”—did not arise out of the disciplinary process.
The jurist acknowledged that the Leonard Law expressly allows one to file suit without having to seek administrative mandamus, but said that Antebi lacked standing under that law because he was no longer enrolled.
“[T]he plain language of the statute—‘any student enrolled . . . may commence a civil action’ indicates that the student must be enrolled when the legal action begins,” he said.
The case is Antebi v. Occidental College, B186951.
In other conference action, the justices agreed to decide whether a commitment proceeding under the Sexually Violent Predator Act must be dismissed if an underlying conviction on which the proceeding rests is vacated following a successful appeal.
Div. Seven of this district’s Court of Appeal held in In re Smith, B184548, that the trial court obtained jurisdiction once a proper SVP Act petition was filed, and that the subsequent tossing of the underlying conviction did not divest the trial court of such jurisdiction. The high court voted unanimously to grant review.
The defendant, David Woodrow Smith, had previously prevailed when the Supreme Court reversed Div. Seven and ruled that this state’s sex-offender registration statute does not require a defendant who was convicted in California but has since left the state to notify authorities here after moving from one out-of-state residence to another.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company