Judge rules UC Berkeley police illegally searched camera of journalist covering campus protest

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — A judge has ruled that the University of California police illegally searched the camera of a photojournalist covering a protest outside the chancellor's campus home, attorneys said Monday.

Alameda County Superior Judge Yolanda Northridge on Friday invalidated the search warrant used by UC Berkeley police to review photographs taken by David Morse at the Dec. 11 demonstration, according to the Oakland-based First Amendment Project, which represented him.

The judge also ordered the university to return all copies of Morse's photos, which campus police were using as part of their investigation into violence and vandalism the night of the protest.

The First Amendment Project called the ruling a "huge and hard-fought victory for freedom of the press," noting that the judge upheld a California law restricting police searches of journalists' unpublished work.

The UC Police Department has not had a chance to review the ruling, said Capt. Margo Bennett. But she said campus police wrote the affidavit for the search warrant in good faith and a judge signed it.

Morse was covering the demonstration outside Chancellor Robert Birgeneau's campus residence for the San Francisco Bay Area Independent Media Center, also known as Indybay.

Morse repeatedly identified himself as a journalist before he was arrested by campus police, which obtained a search warrant to look at his photos before he was released on bail, according to the First Amendment Project.

Morse's attorneys said UC police did not tell the judge that he had identified himself as a journalist when they requested the warrant.

That night campus police arrested eight people after dozens of protesters broke windows, lights and planters outside of Birgeneau's home. The protesters were demonstrating against state funding cuts that have led to course cutbacks, faculty furloughs and sharp fee increases.