David Morse, 42, said he was photographing the Dec. 11 demonstration outside Chancellor Robert Birgeneau's campus home when he was arrested with seven others. He was charged with several crimes, including assaulting a police officer and vandalism.
All charges against Morse and the others were later dropped. Police returned Morse's camera, but not the disks storing his photos.
Morse said he was taking photographs for the San Francisco Bay Area Independent Media Center, known as IndyBay, and identified himself as a journalist at least six times. State law protects reporters and photographers from, among other things, having their work seized by authorities.
With small, online news outlets such as IndyBay popping up around the Bay Area, it is important for journalists to know their legal rights, Morse said.
"We need to stick up for ourselves," he said. "That's what I'm trying to do here."
Morse's motion, filed Friday in Alameda County Superior Court, seeks to quash the UC search warrant that allowed police to search the camera for the unpublished photographs. A hearing is scheduled for May 11.
A spokesman for the university police department, Lt. Alex Yao, did not respond to questions about the incident and Morse's motion.
In a December affidavit justifying the need for a search warrant, a UC police officer did not mention that Morse had identified himself as a journalist.
California's "shield law" clearly protects journalists from being forced to help the government, said Terry Francke, a First Amendment attorney and founder of the open-government group Californians Aware.
"That's one aspect of what the shield law is all about: preventing police from relying on journalists to collect information on third parties," he said. "I think he might have a good basis for a civil-rights action."
Matt Krupnick covers higher education. Contact him at 925-943-8246. Follow him at Twitter.com/mattkrupnick.