Accused of Anti-Muslim Bias, OC District Attorney Won't Recuse Office From Prosecution of UCI 11 Protesters


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Rackauckas: I'm not anti-Muslim
Defense lawyers in the so-called "Irvine 11" UCI protest case have accused the Orange County District Attorney's office of anti-Muslim bias and demanded that the office recuse itself from the prosecution of students who disrupted the February 2010 speech of Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren.
 
But prosecutors say they have no intent of withdrawing and in a recent court brief claimed that the defendants have offered nothing but "vague, speculative ... and unsubstantiated" statements in hopes of winning a recusal.
 
"Defendant's recusal motion should be denied on the merits because [their] claims of prosecutorial misconduct are unsubstantiated and untrue," wrote Deputy District Attorney Stephen Sauer.
 
"Defendants have failed to show that the manner in which the OCDA investigated this case was unlawful or improper," Sauer continued. "The OCDA thoroughly investigated this case, properly used search warrants, subpoenas and the grand jury where appropriate. Moreover, although the conspiracy [to disrupt Ambassador Oren's UCI speech] could have been charged as a felony, the district attorney has exercised his discretion and only charged the defendants with misdemeanors."
 
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Photo by Christopher Victorio/OC Weekly
A silent protest followed March's arraignment of the "Irvine 11" at Superior Court in Santa Ana.
The defendants claim that even the way the DA's office styles the matter as the "UCI Muslim Case" in internal documents proves anti-Muslim bias.
 
"The term 'UCI Muslim' is not a disparaging or derogatory term," Sauer observed in his brief. "As the evidence demonstrates that the disruption of the Oren event was spearheaded and organized through the [Muslim Student Union], the term is not an unreasonable shorthand way for the OCDA to identity this case in its internal communications."
 
According to prosecutors, Muslim students illegally conspired in person and in online message boards to disrupt Oren's speech. A pre-speech e-mail amongst the defendants shows they planned to "disrupt the whole event" in a "Chicago-style protest" that "shuts down" the speech and shows the ambassador that "he can't just go to a campus and say whatever he wants."
 
In another e-mail, the protesters predicted they might be arrested but believed they would not be prosecuted for any crime, even misdemeanors. They also noted that, "Ideally, disruption will be throughout the whole event" including "booing followed by disruptions, then a loud walkout at the end." 
 
The defendants called their efforts a "game plan" that required secrecy and even had a "Plan B" that called on "reserve" protesters to disrupt the speech if the first group of protesters got arrested and removed, according to the DA's office.
 
Additional evidence shows that the group did not want protesters to make "on the fly statements" but rather regurgitate prepared remarks given to them on index cards.
 
Wrote Sauer, "Disruptors were instructed to be 'VERY LOUD, firm and strong. ..."
 
Prosecutors say that the group was so meticulous that it planned for "non-disruptors" sympathetic to their cause to cheer the protesters at specific times.
 
When Ambassador Oren began his speech after professor Mark Petracca urged civility, one of the defendants, Osama Ahmen Shabaik, stood and began the harassment by shouting, "Michael Oren, propagating murder is not free speech!" Then a series of other students stood and shouted other statements such as, "Michael Oren, you are a war criminal," "It's a shame this university has sponsored a mass murderer like yourself" and "You sir, are an accomplice to genocide."

The defendants claim that, as a military communications officer, Oren participated in the deaths of Palestinians on the Gaza Strip in 2009.
 
The case, which is being prosecuted by Assistant DA Dan Wagner, is in the pretrial stage in Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana. At each hearing, dozens of people show up at the courthouse to show their support for the accused students. They are demanding that the DA's office drop the case.
--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly


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