[UPDATED with Veteran Prosecutor Joining Defense:] "Irvine 11" Again Go Before the Judge

UPDATE, MAY 31, 1:18 P.M.: The lead prosecutor in the "Irvine 11" misdemeanor criminal conspiracy case is Dan Wagner, who earlier this year was named head of the Orange County District Attorney's Homicide Unit.

He'll now match legal wits with another veteran homicide prosecutor as Lane Liroff has joined the defense team for the 11 UC Irvine and UC Riverside students facing jail time for disrupting Israel Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren's UCI speech last year.

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Liroff, who is working on the Irvine case pro bono, ran unsuccessfully for a judge's seat before retiring last year from the Santa Clara County District Attorney's office.

He had a rocky exit as political foes within the DA's office tried without success to prevent the Board of Supervisors from honoring Liroff with a plaque for his 30 years of service to Santa Clara County, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

He'll get to exchange winks with Wagner on Aug. 15, when the Irvine 11 trial is scheduled to begin.

UPDATE, MAY 26, 4:32 P.M.: Orange County Superior Court Judge Peter J. Wilson refused today to make public grand jury transcripts that serve as the basis for the ongoing criminal prosecution of the "Irvine 11."

Lawyers representing the 11 UC Irvine and UC Riverside students facing jail time for disrupting Israel Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren's UCI speech last year had moved to unseal the documents. But Wilson ruled doing so would expose the prosecution's argument in the misdemeanor case.

The Orange County Peace Coalition led a demonstration outside the Santa Ana courthouse. Visitors to the courtroom included Chuck Anderson of the ACLU's Orange County chapter and Jim Gilchrist of the Minuteman Project.

Wonder if they carpooled?

UPDATE, MAY 25, 4:31 P.M.: Another hearing, another excuse to gag yourself.

The "Irvine 11," the nickname for the student protesters facing jail time for disrupting Israel Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren's UC Irvine speech last year, have a 9 a.m. date before an Orange County Superior Court judge Thursday.

About a hour before that, members and supporters of the Orange County Peace Coalition plan to show up in front of the Santa Ana courthouse. You can't miss 'em: they'll be the ones with mouths gagged.

Photos by Christopher Victorio/OC Weekly
Demonstrators at the Irvine 11's arraignment in Santa Ana, where blue duct tape sales must be soaring.
"Justice wears a blindfold and holds a scale to symbolize that race, religious creed and political affiliation shall not influence or color the judicial process," reads an email from the coalition's Sharon Tipton.

 "UCI administrators have failed to grant students their constitutional rights to free speech," the statement continues. "Freedom of speech, protest and assembly are a fiction when the cost of exercising these fundamental rights is expulsion and the derailing of an education leading to a career as a productive member of society."

It's a mystery how the ire has shifted from the Orange County District Attorney's office, which is pursuing misdemeanor criminal charges against  the eight UCI students and three from UC Riverside, to UCI, which has already punished the campus Muslim Student Union over the Oren interruptions and opposed to the current prosecution.

Ah well, the Orange County Peace Coalition invites anyone reading this to join them tomorrow morning "in defense of the rights of free speech and protest and the ideal that all universities must remain a bastion of the free exchange of ideas."

They expect to be at the courthouse, 700 W. Civic Center Dr., Santa Ana, until 10 a.m.

ORIGINAL POST, MAY 16, 10:08 A.M.: The misdemeanor case against the university students known as the "Irvine 11" hinges on when it's appropriate to speak, whether one's constitutional rights to free speech can trump another's and whether conspiring to do so is a crime.

Perhaps it's appropriate, then, that the judge in the case has just issued an order to essentially shut the fuck up.

Judge Peter J. Wilson in Santa Ana has granted a motion sought by defense attorneys for the Muslim students--eight from UC Irvine, three from UC Riverside--to stop prosecutors from making any more public statements about the case.

The defense had accused police, lead prosecutor Dan Wagner and others in the Orange County District Attorney's office (OCDA) of tainting the jury pool by labeling the student defendants as anti-Semitic, declaring them guilty and other "ethically irresponsible" statements. The judge's ruling prevents the OCDA from talking with the media or others about the case.

The OCDA has denied those defense assertions, most strongly any attempts to brand this a religiously fueled prosecution. The defense also alleges OCDA bias because the subject line of an email prosecutors sent to the students' lawyers referred to it as the "UCI Muslim Case."

The OCDA has countered that there are two separate cases proceeding against student demonstrators at UCI--for demonstrations that happened around the same time even--and the title merely sought to differentiate between the one involving Muslim Student Union members disrupting a Feb. 8, 2010, speech on campus by Israel's Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren and another in the administration building over different issues like racism and rising fees in the UC system.

The students have pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor conspiracy to commit a crime and misdemeanor disruption of a meeting. Each could get up to six months in jail if convicted. Trial is scheduled to begin on Aug. 15.

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