Nearly 35,000 former University of California students received a holiday gift from their alma mater: a check for as much as $12,000.

The university last month paid more than $33 million to former students who participated in a class-action lawsuit over disputed fees. A state appeals court ruled in November 2007 that UC had unfairly raised fees for thousands of students in 2003.

UC attorneys appealed the ruling, but the state Supreme Court declined to consider the case, leaving the university on the hook for the refunds and interest that boosted the total owed to $42 million. Most of the money was distributed in December.

"It's actually gone pretty smoothly," said Andrew Freeman, a Baltimore-based attorney for the former students.

A UC spokesman said the payout would not affect the university, despite recent budget cuts that have led to increased class sizes and other cutbacks. UC plans to use a portion of student fees to pay for the judgment over the next five or six years, the spokesman said.

The students had accused UC of falsely promising some students their fees would not rise. Instead, prices rose sharply for some students, particularly those at a handful of professional schools, including UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall law school.

Most plaintiffs received checks of $200 to $300. Six received $1.

But some former graduate students were paid significantly more: up to $12,000. The timing of the payout was perfect, said Mohammad Kashmiri, the lead plaintiff and a former UC Berkeley law student.


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"People have been very appreciative," he said. "It came at a great time, right before Christmas."

Matt Krupnick covers higher education. Reach him at 925-943-8246 or mkrupnick@bayareanewsgroup.com.