A somber crowd gathered quietly late Friday at the foot of UC Berkeley’s Campanile to honor and mourn Christopher Patti, the campus’s top lawyer who was killed Sunday while on a bike ride in Sonoma County.
As chief campus counsel since 2010, Patti had represented Berkeley in countless important matters, leading litigation that has protected the interests of the campus. He worked extensively with federal, state and local government agencies, the legislature, community organizations and the media.
“Chris was an extraordinary lawyer; he was a national expert on free speech, a subject of critical importance to the campus in the last year,” Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ told those gathered. “He guided us through many fraught and difficult legal issues in academic personnel, often involving the Senate’s Privilege and Tenure Committee; he created the campus’s legal office as the extraordinary team it is, and he gave us judicious and wise advice on a wide variety of legal issues.
“But it is not only as a lawyer that I and those of you here valued Chris,” she continued. “He had great integrity and wisdom. He responded to extraordinarily fraught and complex situations, at once human and legal, with both compassion and a commitment to Berkeley’s mission and purpose. In the campus responses to his death that I’ve received since Sunday, I’ve been moved by how wide his reach was. People across the campus valued his advice, his knowledge, his humanity, his judgment, his wisdom. I remember particularly his humor-that characteristic wry twist of a half-smile that revealed he understood the irony of what he was saying.
“We all feel a profound sense of loss.”
(Excerpts of the ceremony can be heard here, and the article continues below.)
The Campanile’s bells marked the moment, as University Carillonist Jeff Davis played a musical tribute.
Before coming to Berkeley, Patti worked in the Office of the General Counsel at the University of California Office of the President from 1990 to 2010. In that role, he specialized in litigation involving academic and student affairs, constitutional issues, class actions and other matters.
Colleagues said Patti’s profound understanding of the legal challenges confronting contemporary higher education made him especially suited for the job and informed his many important contributions to the campus and the UC system.
“Chris was a wonderful colleague and friend who cared about people and doing the right thing. He was an extraordinary lawyer to whom we all turned for advice and counsel. His loss is unfathomable,” said Charles F. Robinson, general counsel and vice president of legal affairs with the University of California.
Patti graduated from Dartmouth College and then earned his J.D. from the University of Virginia Law School, where he was selected to join the prestigious Order of the Coif and served as a Virginia Law Review editor. He clerked for Judge Frank M. Johnson Jr. of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and was a litigation associate at Heller, Ehrman, White & McAuliffe in San Francisco before moving to UC.
Patti was remembered also in Sonoma County, where he was hit while on a bike ride on Highway 116 along the Russian River. The Guerneville Community Alliance has put up a “ghost bike” — a bicycle painted white — as a memorial to mark the crash site. “Our community is very saddened by this event,” said a spokesperson for the group, which is working to add a small garden, too.