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Judge upholds city ordinance that helps UCLA protect researchers from animal extremists

This release was updated Jan. 24, 2012.
A federal judge has upheld the constitutionality of a Los Angeles city ordinance that has been critical to UCLA's efforts to protect its researchers from an organized campaign of harassment by anti–animal research extremists.
U.S. District Judge A. Howard Matz on Thursday, Dec. 15, rejected a claim by four plaintiffs that the university's attempts to keep its faculty safe have denied the plaintiffs their right to free speech.
[Update, Jan. 24: After being given time extensions to file an amended complaint, on Jan. 24, the plaintiffs notified the judge that they are voluntarily dismissing their case.]

The ordinance at issue regulates neighborhood protests, requiring picketers to maintain a certain distance from residences and prohibiting disruptive noise. Three of the four plaintiffs who brought the claim were arrested outside the home of a UCLA professor in May 2010. They have since agreed to perform community service and stay at least 300 feet away from the homes of three UCLA researchers who have been targeted in the past, in exchange for which the charges will be dismissed.

The judge gave the plaintiffs 21 days to file an amended complaint, limiting them to allegations of how the ordinance could be unfairly enforced in the future.

"This ruling affirms UCLA's right to protect our researchers by enforcing existing municipal ordinances," said Kevin Reed, UCLA vice chancellor for legal affairs. "At every protest, campus police have respected the expression of free speech within the bounds of applicable laws."

The campaign of harassment by extremists has often been characterized by violent threats and intimidation. In the past, they have claimed responsibility for the firebombing of a UCLA commuter van and a private vehicle, the placing of incendiary devices on the doorsteps of private residences and under vehicles, vandalism, and threatening phone calls and e-mails.

UCLA police, with the cooperation of the Los Angeles and Santa Monica police departments, are present at home demonstrations to enforce a court injunction and municipal ordinances, as well as to protect researchers and their families.

Research involving laboratory animals at UCLA contributes to medical breakthroughs that improve people's lives, and it holds promise for additional improvements in diagnoses, treatments and cures for ailments such as cancer, Alzheimer's disease and schizophrenia. The research is closely monitored and subjected to strict oversight by federal and campus regulators to ensure humane care and scientific necessity.

For more on animal research at UCLA, visit this background page.
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