An Alameda County Superior Court Commissioner ordered Yvette Felarca, the controversial Berkeley middle school teacher and activist, to pay $10,000 in attorney’s fees and $1,100 in court fees for her failed attempt to get a permanent restraining order against Troy Worden, the former head of the Berkeley College Republicans.
Commissioner Thomas Rasch issued the order Thursday before a scheduled hearing at the Hayward branch of the court. He said that Felarca’s legal actions were not brought in good faith. Felarca’s attorneys dispute that characterization and have said they intend to appeal the ruling.
The case involved two political opponents who played large roles in 2017’s conflicts concerning President Trump, conservative speakers, and free speech issues on campus. Felarca is a national organizer for the far left group By Any Means Necessary and has protested vigorously against the speakers the BCR brought to campus, including Milo Yiannopoulos and Ben Shapiro. Worden was president of the BCR until he was ousted late last year. But his actions with that group propelled him into the national limelight.
Felarca got a temporary restraining order (TRO) against Worden in September after alleging he was stalking and harassing her for her political activities on campus. A judge initially ordered Worden to stay 100 yards away from Felarca, but later reduced that distance to 10 yards. Felarca then applied for a permanent restraining order in October but withdrew the application the day of the hearing, making Worden the prevailing party entitled to receive lawyer and court fees.
Worden’s attorneys characterized the $11,100 payment as a victory, and said it proved that Felarca and her organization, By Any Means Necessary, had fabricated claims that Worden was stalking Felarca on Sproul Plaza on the UC Berkeley campus.
“By ruling that Yvette Felarca did not demonstrate good faith in filing the restraining order, the court recognized the frivolous nature of Felarca’s actions,” Mark Meuser, Worden’s attorney, said in a press release issued after the decision. “The award of attorney fees should send a strong signal that she cannot abuse the court system to silence speech.”
The payment is but a small fraction of Worden’s actual legal fees. In court, Meuser told the commissioner that Dhillon Law Firm’s actual legal expenses were around $178,600 and that he was seeking a higher reimbursement. Meuser said he spent 175 hours interviewing witnesses and reviewing videos of Worden’s and Felarca’s interactions on the UC Berkeley campus. He also said he attended six court hearings. Meuser asked the commissioner to increase the payment to better reflect his work, but Rasch declined to do so and indicated that he thought the $178,600 was not a reasonable request.
Shanta Driver, the attorney for Felarca and BAMN, told the court that any fee, even $10,000, was too high because it would set a terrible precedent. It would mean that any woman seeking protection from potential or actual abuse with a restraining order could face a crushing financial burden if the order was not granted. Driver also told the commissioner that the court description that Felarca had filed for a TRO in bad faith was “misapplied.”
Driver said she thought the judge had taken political sides.
“This verdict was based on the judge’s decision to support the political views of Troy Worden and the alt-right and that is not acceptable,” said Driver.
Rasch pointed out in court that Felarca never directly addressed her claims against Worden when she was on the witness stand.
Driver said she would appeal Rasch’s decision.
Felarca is scheduled to appear twice more in court in January, once for a pretrial hearing on felony charges she incited a riot in Sacramento in June 2016 and once for various misdemeanor charges surrounding her actions at a September protest march in Berkeley.