[UPDATED] Irvine 11 Charged With Misdemeanors and Face Jail, Probation, Community Service if Convicted

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Photos by Christopher Victorio/OC Weekly
Seven of the Irvine 11
*Corrected version

UPDATE, MARCH 11, 4:08 P.M.: The arraignment of the Irvine 11 was continued this morning until April 15 so the court can consider defense motions to seal grand-jury documents, remove the Orange County district attorney (OCDA) from the misdemeanor criminal case and other procedural matters.

Attorneys for both sides met with Judge Peter J. Wilson in chambers and agreed to the continuance before it was announced to a courtroom packed with media, defense attorneys, prosecutors, family members, supporters, seven of the Irvine 11 defendants and obviously confused defendants in other cases.

"This is ridiculous," said an African-American gentleman behind me accompanied by two women one might find in the Weekly's adult classifieds. "All for this shit?"

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Supporters of the Irvine 11 wear tape over their mouths to protest what they consider government censorship. Click here for photographer Christopher Victorio's slideshow.
Merde or no, the OCDA is pressing the case. "We don't think they have any grounds at all," lead prosecutor Dan Wagner said outside court after the defense motions. "We look forward to presenting evidence."

He was speaking on the second floor of the Orange County Superior Court, near the escalators, where a makeshift press-conference area was set up after the hearing. Earlier, Dan Stormer, one of the five defense attorneys representing different members of the Irvine 11, told the assembled media, supporters and OCDA representatives Wagner's case is "an absolute affront to the Constitution."

*Corrected paragraph:

"What they're doing is frightening, an affront to our civil rights," said defense attorney Jacqueline Goodman, who represents the Irvine 11's Osama Shabiak and Mohemed Abdelgany, who were president and vice president of the Muslim Student Union (MSU) respectively.

"To allow one person, the DA, to decide what content of the speech to criminalize? It's a very dangerous act for democracy itself," Goodman said. "This goes well beyond these brave students, but for every one of us."

Before explaining the defense motions filed today, Stormer's colleague Dan Mayfield noted he participated in "a lot worse" protests while he was a UCI student (and, judging by his white hair, that was long ago).

The grand jury documents should be sealed because evidence could only be gathered by search warrant if this were a felony rather than misdemeanor case, said Mayfield, who also claimed the state Attorney General should take over the prosecution because the OCDA's office has been trying the case in the media for a year and has demonstrated bias against Muslims.

Evidence of the first motion is found in court documents and media coverage of the case, while the second relies on e-mails prosecutors shared with one another, cc'd to lead defense attorney Reem Salahi, with the title "UCI Muslim Case--Settlement Proposal." Mayfield also pointed to a video on YouTube in which OCDA Chief of Staff Susan Kang Shroeder points out the students were Islamic and the speaker they are charged with interrupting was Jewish. That, Mayfield contends, shows the OCDA is singling out the students because of their faith.

"I think it's certainty that they're Muslim students," agreed Irene Tucker, associate professor of English literature at UCI. Various faculty groups at UCI and elsewhere have urged the DA's office to drop the case.


But Tucker also believes the matter demonstrates UCI is "very anxious by dissent of any sort."

"There are a lot of different histories through which this can be read," Tucker said. "You know they briefly fired the law dean they had just hired when there were objections from members of the Irvine area. There's a long tradition of folding whenever any wealthy or significant member of the Orange County community objects to something. This means the university, individuals, and faculty and students are inhibited in doing the work the university is supposed to do, which is to learn and think in critical ways and to disagree about things in productive ways."

Later, standing alongside Wagner, Schroeder looked at the assembled reporters, noted some of them have been covering her for nine years and remarked incredulously, "And suddenly, I'm racist?" She said the Irvine 11 "clearly violated the law" and her office "had no choice but to file charges" once presented the evidence.

Schroeder and Wagner also found it "curious" the Irvine 11 have"turned things around" to make themselves the free-speech victims when they are accused of violating the free-speech rights of Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the U.S.

But on that point, attorneys, supporters, parents and members of the Irvine 11 had told the Weekly that Oren was making a political speech and the students were reacting with the same by repeating he was an Israeli military leader responsible for the death of Palestinians on the Gaza Strip in 2009. They challenged anyone to check the controversial YouTube videos of them interrupting his February 2010 speech and find where they mentioned Oren's religion. They note they did not, that what they engaged in was constitutionally protected political speech.

"This is just campus activism," Moutaz Herzallah, the father of Irvine 11 defendant Taher Herzallah, told me as we sat next to each other before the hearing began. The Corona resident claimed "special interests" had pushed District Attorney Tony Rackauckas to prosecute the students from UCI and UC Riverside.

Defendant Ali Sayeed read a statement thanking all the student, faculty, religious, civil-rights and other groups around the state that have come out in support of the Irvine 11. Behind him were hundreds of supporters wearing blue duct tape over their faces.

"The reason why our mouths are taped is to represent how our free speech has been suppressed," one supporter said after pulling the tape to the side to speak. "They're basing criminal prosecution on exercising that freedom of speech."

"Absolutely ridiculous they got charged in the first place," said Alaa Alomar, of UCI's class of 2010. "I'm anxious to see what's going to happen in a month. Hopefully, everything goes well and in their favor, as it should, since they're not criminals and they didn't do anything to be charged."

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Prosecutor Dan Wagner says the defense motions against his case have no merit.

"It's very important for the community to come and speak out and say, 'Look, we don't stand behind this,'" the woman who organized the show of support, Marya Bangee of the Stand With the Eleven campaign, said.

Bangee, who graduated from UCI in 2009, accused the OCDA of wasting taxpayer money to prosecute the students. "He's already used $100,000 to investigate, just for speaking during an event. We have nothing better to do with our money?"

She added, "I think this is a case of selective enforcement of the law and discrimination, and I question why this case is being prosecuted. Obviously, this type of protest is common on American campuses. Why these students? And why our money?"

Bangee said the Irvine 11 have received "incredible support from many different faith groups, ethnicities, everywhere; if you check our website, we have over 20 statements of support from different groups across the nation and world."

Among those showing interfaith support at the press conference was Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak, who contended the university had already dealt with the matter by disciplining the students and Muslim Student Union. (That's a point Tucker also agreed with: "I think the fact that the MSU was punished was already overreaching, and I think this is even more egregious overreaching. The university is at best derelict in its duty in not speaking out against this sooner." The university has come out against the Irvine 11 prosecution.)

Beliak received polite applause after he said interfaith leaders were on their way to making things more harmonious on campus for Jews, Muslims and other students when the DA's hammer came down. Salahi later noted Rackauckas callously did so 362 days after the incident--or three days before the statute of limitations would have prevented him from filing charges.

"Those students are not criminals," she said. "They did not do anything wrong. They do not belong here today."

OC Weekly intern Chinyere Cindy Amobi contributed to this post.

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12 comments
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dedavid
dedavid

Who cares if it was inside or outside. That distinction only matters when the forum is a Public or Private forum. The UCI event was a public event. Did you see the Union protesters arrested inside the Capital building in Wisconsin ? They interrupted daily business.

Thank God for the US Constitution which isn't biased, if it was up to some people we'd have a country like Cuba. The playing field must be level throughout the nation, and Not slanted to what suits you. Our biggest danger from within are Hypocrites, worse than terrorist, because terrorist cause a single event while Hypocrites are the homegrown perpetual destruction to tear this nation and our constitution down.

Isn't it amazing that even those that wish to destroy our Rights are allowed to speak their mind. Think about that.

Phil
Phil

If sentenced to do community service, the students might help raise funds for the Gaza university that the Zionists destroyed with U.S. weapons. The problem, though, is that Israel attacks it when the indigenous people of Palestine try to rebuild it.

In Europe, it is Israeli officials who have to fear arrest -- for war crimes. UC Irvine would never have invited someone from an outfit that bombed an Israeli university to give a speech.

Ruben
Ruben

@ Matt Coker, what does this have to with this article?

"This is ridiculous," said an African American gentleman behind me accompanied by two women one might find in the Weekly's adult classifieds. "All for this shit?"

Fight the Oppressor
Fight the Oppressor

I am sick of these bs from these self-righteous students and their supporters and their dumb talking points.

1. They are only being prosecuted because they are Muslim. It is selective prosecution. No evidence of that. Pure speculation. There is clear evidence that they were interested in preventing the speaker to present a lecture because he was Israeli official. In their eyes is perfectly okay to shout down Israeli official….come on he represents Israel. It is okay to selectively shut down speakers based on what nation they represent.

2. Oren was able to deliver his speech so no harm. This is a fail. The presentation had to be cut short because all of the disruptions. The planned question and answer section had to be eliminated.

3. They were just exercising their rights of Free Speech. This is a fail. Erwin Cherminsky has said he does not believe they will be successful with this claim of defense and he is an expert on this topic. Free speech is rendered meaningless if I can yell over it. Next time I take a course at UC Irvine, I'll yell at my professor that he spells like grapefruit every ten minutes of the lecture. I’ll just be exercising my rights of free speech.

4. CAIR and many of their supporters will not concede that they did anything wrong. I disagree. I agree with the 100 UC Irvine professors who signed a statement that said "the students were wrong to prevent a speaker invited to the campus from speaking and being heard. And the Muslim Student Union acted inappropriately in coordinating this and in misrepresenting its involvement to University officials." I guess CAIR and other groups are cool with these students lying to University officials. Stay classy CAIR.

5. Members of a Jewish group interrupted a lecture in New Orleans and didn’t face charges. So bring that shit up in New Orleans. This is Orange County. It is a different jurisdiction with a different DA. It isn’t all that relevant. This is the dumbest of the bunch of talking points.

6. The DA can use its resources better. This is true. The students are too self-righteous and ignorant to learn anything through criminally prosecuting them. They will reveal in being in the news and feel they are courageous for fighting against oppression - which is pretty funny when you consider why they are being charged. They are being charged for disturbing a lawful meeting. They were oppressing people’s right to free speech and the right of those attending to hear a lecture. They were the one’s doing the oppressing but in their twisted egotistical minds they were fighting oppression.

I hope the DA drops the charges because I cannot take this anymore.

Tired of being shouted down
Tired of being shouted down

Jail time seems extreme, but the students should be disciplined in some fashion. Free speech works two ways and they prevented the exercise of free speech by Ambassador Michael Oren. What was the discipline given by the university to the involved students?

Flip it around. Would the professors be so supportive of any conservative group who behaved rudely, boorishly and prevented an Islamic speaker from exercising their right to speak? I highly doubt it.

Ashamed American
Ashamed American

Frankly, I find this story disturbing.The Supreme Court states that it is a legal demonstration of free speech to verbally and emotionally attack the family and friends of a fallen American soldier, but these students are being charged with a crime for what certainly does not come close to paralleling such acts because they voiced their opinions against a foreign speaker. Not only is this one-sided, it's extremely sad... it means that the family and friends may be mourning soldiers who sacrificed all for freedom in another country that means nothing here at home.

Sick of this story
Sick of this story

Erwin Chemerinksy wrote a piece on this after the event. He is the dean of the UC Irvine School of Law.

http://articles.latimes.com/20...

"Freedom of speech, on campuses and elsewhere, is rendered meaningless if speakers can be shouted down by those who disagree. The law is well established that the government can act to prevent a heckler's veto -- to prevent the reaction of the audience from silencing the speaker. There is simply no 1st Amendment right to go into an auditorium and prevent a speaker from being heard, no matter who the speaker is or how strongly one disagrees with his or her message."

Students and others who disrupted an address by the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. can't claim 1st Amendment rights.

Since the University has punished them and I don't see anything being gained by criminal prosecution, I hope the charges are dropped.

At the same time, I am sick of their supporters saying what these students did was commendable and/or the students were just exercising their rights of free speech. The students were wrong to prevent a speaker invited to the campus from speaking and being heard. And the Muslim Student Union acted inappropriately in coordinating this and in misrepresenting its involvement to University officials.

Protest outside next time. Let people who want to hear a lecture hear a lecture and determine if the speaker's ideas have merit or not.

Now lets move on.

Stop the oppresors
Stop the oppresors

Oh look. A new talking point.

Israeli officials should not be invited to speak by the university.

It is fairly obvious that grievance could have been protested outside the event. In the emails that have been released, I see evidence that their goal was to send a message that he [Oren] could not say anything he wanted on the campus.

Maybe there was a distinction made that the students were upset with the university for inviting Oren to speak. But my best guess is that if student groups invited him to speak instead of the university we would most likely have seen the same reaction by the students.

Over the years, the university has invited speakers of different political and philosophical persuasions to speak on campus. It has been the policy of the university to set aside a period with all such presentations for questions and answers segment so that students can create a dialogue and hear different points of view.

Maybe if the students did not yell and scream, which caused the elimination of the question an answer question segment of this presentation, a person like you could have asked him about Israel’s action that concern you.

I got to pee
I got to pee

The students didn't merely voice their voice their opinions against a foreign speaker. They went *inside* the lecture auditorium and repeatedly interrupted his speech. They had exchanged emails beforehand with plans how they were going to disrupt the event. They had a meeting before the speech and determined that their goal should be to show Ore he couldn't come onto the campus and say whatever he wanted.

The Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment protects fundamentalist church members who protest *outside* military funerals despite the pain they cause grieving families.

If the students had protested outside the school would not disciplined them and there would be no criminal case. They could then legitimately claim they were exercising their First Amendment rights.

Do you not see the critical distinction?

Phil
Phil

I notice that you do not maintain that UC Irvine would invite someone to speak who was part of an outfit that bombed an Israeli university. So I take it that you agree with me. The students might have done the same thing regardless of who invited the speaker, as he would still be a member of a terrorist organization.

The problem the Irvine 11 face is that they are pro-Palestinian and opponents of Zionist expansionism, and the district attorney is a politician and hypocrite. Notice that there was no arrest or prosecution for the disruption of the speech of pro-Palestinian Norman Finkelstein.

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