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Descendants of UC Hastings College of the Law founder sue California to block school name change

Nathan Solis, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Descendants of UC Hastings College of the Law's founder sued California on Tuesday to block a scheduled name change that was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom last month.

The state's first law school was founded by Serranus Clinton Hastings in 1878 after he served as the first chief justice on the California Supreme Court. But in 2020, a commission report explained how Hastings arrived in California during the Gold Rush, paid for and promoted expeditions in the Eden and Round Valleys of Northern California that resulted in the deaths and displacement of hundreds of Yuki Indians, whose land he later took for himself.

Hastings donated $100,000 in gold coins to the state to establish the law school in San Francisco and required that the college bear his name in perpetuity and one of his relatives sit on the board of directors.

While the law school's board of directors voted to change its name in 2021, it was bound by law to the conditions set during the school's establishment. Circumventing those contractual obligations would require legislative action, according to lawmakers.

On Sept. 23, Newsom signed into law Assembly Bill 1936, which allowed California to sever its ties from Hastings' legacy and allow the school to change its name to UC College of the Law, San Francisco. The bill was co-sponsored by Assemblymembers Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, and James Ramos, D-Highland, who is the first Native American elected to the state assembly.

"AB 1936 ensures that the history and suffering of the Yuki and Round Valley people are not dismissed," Ramos said in a written statement. "This is a critical step toward healing a traumatic history and rectifying wrongs."

 

But on Tuesday, Hastings' descendants sued the state in San Francisco Superior Court, the law school and its board of directors, claiming the state is obligated to honor its contract with Hastings and the state's actions "heaps scorn and punishment upon S.C. Hastings, his descendants, and indeed, by association, upon all of the tens of thousands of Hastings law graduates living and deceased."

The lawsuit was filed by the alumni under the name of the Hastings College Conservation Committee. They were joined by Stephen Hastings Breeze and several other relatives. They are represented by the Dhillon Law Group and the Berkeley-based law firm Michael Yamamoto.

The family disputes Serranus Hastings was responsible or involved in atrocities against Native Americans by financially supporting raids from state-run militia groups that sought to drive away tribes.

"While AB 1936 convicts Serranus Hastings of killing Native Americans in the court of public opinion, this is false," Scott Hastings Breeze said in a written statement.

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