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UCLA to take activists to court

Times Staff Writer

Seeking to protect scientists who conduct experiments using animals, UCLA will go to court today to request a temporary restraining order against animal rights groups and activists accused of harassing university researchers.

The university said it would ask a Superior Court judge in Santa Monica to limit the activities of five individuals and three organizations that maintain websites, including one that identifies researchers and lists their home addresses.

“We are hoping to send an important message that violence and harassment of our faculty is absolutely outrageous and totally inappropriate,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene D. Block. “We really want to act before someone gets hurt.”

UCLA researchers have been the target of several attacks in recent months. Two weeks ago, someone left an incendiary device at the home of professor Edythe London, who uses vervet monkeys in nicotine-addiction research funded by tobacco giant Philip Morris. The device charred her front door before going out.

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Earlier, animal activists claimed credit for breaking a window in London’s house and using a garden hose to flood the ground floor, causing more than $20,000 in damage.

Attacks on other researchers have included two incendiary devices that didn’t go off, one beneath a researcher’s car and another that was apparently placed by mistake at the home of a neighbor.

In statements on their websites, activists said the attacks are warranted because scientists who conduct such experiments are torturing the animals.

They oppose all use of animals in research.

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UCLA and its attorneys declined Wednesday to identify the five individuals who will be named in the order but said they had all been notified of the hearing.

The university said it would seek a temporary restraining order and permanent injunction against the websites of the Animal Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Brigade, which have allegedly claimed responsibility for unlawful activities against UCLA staff and their homes.

Also to be named in the court action is the UCLA Primate Freedom Project, which is not affiliated with the university and whose website displays the photographs, home addresses and phone numbers of researchers under the heading “Targets.”

Christine Garcia, an attorney who has represented animal activists in the past, said UCLA’s plan to obtain a court order appeared to be part of a continuing attempt by the university to curb legal protests, such as residential picketing, by opponents of animal research.

“For the past year and a half, UCLA has been using unlawful tactics and arresting people without probable cause,” she said.

Block said he believed UCLA must take action to prevent serious harm to the university’s researchers or a member of the public.

“We have been lucky that no one has been hurt so far,” the chancellor said. “A number of these could have turned catastrophic.”

The university also alleges that animal activists have harassed faculty members by banging on their doors or windows during the night and shouting threats, or rampaging through their yards and breaking furniture and belongings.

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Block said the request for a temporary restraining order was not aimed at halting legal protests, including peaceful picketing in researchers’ neighborhoods. Nor would it aim at limiting free expression, he said. “None of us want to stop legal, nonviolent protest,” he said.

“Placing people’s addresses on a website is not an issue of freedom of speech. I can’t think of any appropriate use for that information.”

He noted that harassment of researchers who use animals is increasing at universities around the country, including UC Berkeley.

The chancellor said that of about 5,000 research projects at UCLA, 950 involved animals. Of these, only a handful use primates, said Block, who uses mice in his research on biological clocks.

Research using animals is highly regulated by the federal government and is an invaluable tool in advancing medical knowledge, he said.

“There are relatively few medical procedures or drug discoveries that have not involved animals,” he said. “Radiation, cancer treatment, open heart surgery, organ transplant have been tested on animals before humans. We benefit from health care that is often based on research on animals.”

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richard.paddock@ latimes.com

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