An associate professor of feminist studies at UC Santa Barbara was sentenced Friday to three years probation, 100 hours community service and 10 hours of anger-management classes after pleading no contest to several charges stemming from a confrontation she had with an anti-abortion group on campus in March.
Mireille Miller-Young faced three charges of grand theft from a person, battery and vandalism based on the March 4 incident, during which prosecutors allege the professor took a protestor’s sign, committed battery on another protester, and then destroyed the sign.
The confrontation occurred between Miller-Young and several abortion protesters who carried graphic images on posters. The professor told police she found the literature and pictures “disturbing” because she teaches reproduction rights, and because she was pregnant at the time.
Miller-Young appeared before Judge Brian Hill, dabbing her eyes while sitting in the front of the courtroom.
Three women spoke, including sisters Joan and Thrin Short, who were protesting on campus that day, as well as their mother, Cathryn.
Joan Short told Hill that that the group of young women set up in the free speech zone with their posters that day and were having productive discussions until Miller-Young appeared and began to incite students.
"Tear down the sign" was repeated many times by Miller-Young and other students, creating a mob like atmosphere, she said.
Thrin Short also spoke, and said that though Miller-Young issued an apology to the court, "she should issue an apology to her students."
Cathryn Short said that the apology said nothing about grabbing or scratching her daughter, and encouraged the court to enact community service with a group that thinks differently than Miller-Young, in an effort to think "beyond the squabbles of the like-minded in the faculty lounge."
Miller-Young herself did not speak during the sentencing, but her attorney, Catherine Swysen, reminded that court that "it was an emotionally charged encounter," and that both sides were shouting.
"Those images were very disturbing to many people, and while that doesn't excuse what happened, that is a fact," Swysen said, adding that some students were even crying by what they saw on the posters.
Prosecutor Ron Zonen said that Miller-Young didn't seize the signs because they were offensive, but because they expressed a message she didn't agree with.
"She embarrassed herself, the university… she set a poor example for her students," he said.
Zonen also said that Miller-Young was a talented member of the faculty, and that many of the articles and comments written about her and the incident were "heavy-handed."
Hill opined that free speech interests were at play in the case.
"It's a clash of First Amendment interests, which both sides had a right to express," Hill said, adding that when "speech turns to something like physical invasion, then you have something criminal and that's why we are here."
Hill said that Miller-Young had a tremendous number of positive letters and references and no criminal record. Because of her position at the university, "she's getting the kind of scrutiny that the average defendant would not get," he said.
"I have no question that she's of impeccable character outside of this incident," he said.
Hill ultimately sentenced Miller-Young to serve her community service in conflict-resolution workshops run by the Quaker Church, 10 hours of anger management and $493 in restitution to the Shorts, which was paid in court Friday.
"I think you should feel as though you've been vindicated," he told the Short family, and even though many may have found the posters offensive "it's still protected speech, and you have a right to that."