The administration of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) evaluates the possible legal alternatives within reach to find a solution to the student conflict that keeps several of its campuses closed for a month.
Yesterday, a San Juan Court Judge imposed a $ 5,000 fine on the University, as well as a $1,000 daily fine for each day that the Río Piedras campus remains closed - after determining that it failed to comply with a ruling issued last week by the Court of Appeals.
The university administration is committed to dialogue and mediation as a mechanism to resolve student conflict, said UPR legal representative Enrique Figueroa. However, this is an alternative that has not achieved the results ordered by the Court of Appeals, judge Lauracelis Roques expressed.
The order of the Court of Appeals was issued following a lawsuit filed by students from the Río Piedras campus, who argue that the administration of the Río Piedras campus must guarantee them the access to the University and the continuity of their classes at a time when student strike on campus. The gates of the Río Piedras campus have been closed since March 28.
"This is a regrettable day in the history of UPR. Despite all the efforts made by the administration, we could not prevail before the Court of First Instance. Our legal department will be analyzing options that we will soon inform, "expressed the interim president of the UPR, Nivia Fernandez, in written statements.
In the court hearing in which a civil contempt was filed against the institution and its officials, Figueroa argued that the UPR did "all the steps within its reach" to achieve the opening of the gates, however there are "third parties" - the students on strike - that prevent compliance with the guideline.
The legal representation of the UPR presented two witnesses - the interim executive director of the office of the president, Ivonne Huertas; and the dean of the administration of the campus of Río Piedras, Grisel Meléndez - who gave account of the plans that were developed to try that the students on strike allowed the access to the campus last Thursday.
"In order to determine that contempt had been incurred, it is necessary to prove attempt to breach, and from the beginning, the intention of the administration of the UPR and the Río Piedras campus has been to comply with the judgment of the Court of Appeals," Figueroa explained.
As part of his testimony, Huertas recalled that the 2010 student strike came to an end after a court ordered a mediation process.
When it appeared that the legal representation of the UPR would be asking for a similar remedy, judge Roques made it clear that the hearing was carried out only to determine whether the Appeal's guideline had been complied with and that its jurisdiction to resolve the dispute was limited.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals overturned a judgment of judge Roques stating that there were insufficient grounds on the students' request to order the university administration to open the gates.
The legal representative of the claimant students, Pedro Vázquez, explained that the date of May 11 established in the sentence of the Court of Appeal was a deadline and the institution did not take the necessary steps to obtain access to the premises nor before nor after. In responding to Vázquez's questions, both witnesses indicated that they do not know firsthand about the efforts made since Friday - after the order was expired - to enter the campus.
The University has until Saturday, May 20, to request a reconsideration of the sentence issued by the Court of Appeal on May 5th. However, it has 30 days from the date of the sentence to appeal to the Supreme Court.
"That has to be discussed," Figueroa said as he left the court hearing, when asked if the UPR would appeal to the Appellate or Supreme Court.
Law student María de Lourdes Vaello Calderón, a spokeswoman for the Student Movement at the Río Piedras Campus that supports the fight with the closed gates, lamented the judge's determination to impose fines on the University. However, he recalled that the Río Piedras students endorsed the strike at a meeting held last week.
"We ask all sectors of the university community to put the university in the first place and save it. We will not rest until achieving an open UPR”, declared the interim president.
No police intervention. As part of his arguments, Figueroa explained that the university administration only needed to request the intervention of the Police to gain access to the Campus of Río Piedras, an option that he said is not on the table
"At this moment, there is a determination, that is the public policy of the Government, unless there is a commission of crimes Police will not be called in the UPR," said Figueroa.
In the same way, the legal representative of the claimants asserted that they do not favor the use of the police force to open the gates.
"The day we understand that the only option in the university is violence, we will withdraw the case," said Vázquez.
The lawyer of the students Anamar Menéndez, Rosaima Rivera, Carlos Villegas, Edwin Rivera, Gabriela Firpi and Astrid Burgos noted that the University has not carried out a process of "serious" dialogue to get the gates open, as he asured that they haven´t get close to the claimants to participate. However, he did not respond clearly if they would be willing to sit down to the table for a process of dialogue or mediation.
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