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Law School Blocked From Raising Fees

August 18, 2004

By Michelle Locke
Associated Press

A judge has blocked the University of California from raising fees this fall for some law, medical and other professional school students following a lawsuit claiming the hikes are unfair.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge James L. Warren issued the preliminary injunction Thursday saying it appears students who sued UC over the fee hikes have "demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their claims."

UC, which maintains it must raise fees due to cuts in state funding, planned to appeal, but the ruling was being hailed by students and their lawyers as a significant step.

"This ruling takes a load off my shoulders," said Anupama Menon, a UC Berkeley law student and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

The preliminary injunction grew out of a lawsuit filed a year ago by students who argued that fee increases during the spring and summer semesters of 2003 were a breach of contract. The students said they were told when they enrolled that their professional degree fee would stay the same during their three-year term of enrollment.

However, fees were raised in the spring and summer of 2003 and are scheduled to go up again this fall.

"They promised these students when they entered their respective degree programs that they would not increase this fee and then in violation of that promise they went ahead and did it, putting these students in a very difficult position," said Danielle Leonard, one of the attorneys representing the students.

UC officials say their policy made it clear fees could be changed if necessary. They say hikes became a necessity when state funding was cut back sharply due to California's budget crisis.

"We understand the students' concern about fee increases, but they are a product of the difficult times facing the state," said UC spokesman Hanan Eisenman. The judge's order affects about 3,000 students who enrolled prior to 2003 in professional schools, which include law, medicine, dentistry, business, veterinary medicine, pharmacy, optometry and theater/film/television.

The judge didn't roll back the 2003 fee increases; that issue is to be decided when the students lawsuit is heard later this year. However, it does mean some students do not have to pay the fall increases, which averaged about 30 percent. For instance, fees went up $4,500 for business, taking annual costs to about $21,000 a year including mandatory systemwide fees.

Eisenman said UC is sending out adjusted billing statements to students, although it wasn't clear what happens in cases where students have already paid the higher costs.

He said the order could cost UC $15 million in lost revenue.