Ten of the “Irvine 11” Found Guilty

Ten of the “Irvine 11” students were found guilty of two misdemeanor charges for disrupting Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s speech at UC Irvine in February 2010. The students will serve three years of probation and 56 hours of community service based on charges of  disrupting a lawful assembly and conspiring to commit said crime. The 11th student, Hakim Kebir, accepted a plea bargain for 40 hours of community service earlier this year.

The Irvine 11 initially faced the possibility of a year in jail for their actions. During the scheduled speech on U.S.-Israeli relations, the eleven shouted various insults such as “Michael Oren, you are a war criminal” and “Murder is not free speech.”

The Orange County jury reached their verdict last Friday after a couple of days of deliberation.

According to defense attorney Dan Stormer, his team is currently working on appealing the verdict to address the charge of “the disturbing of an assembly.” They argue that their protest is covered under the first amendment.

“We intend to fight this on the grounds that the penal code [§ 403] is unconstitutional,” Stormer said.

In addition to increasing political tension, the case sparked a national debate on the interpretation of free speech rights. Some agree with the jury’s decision, but there are also those who concur with the defense that the law against assembly disruption contradicts the right to free speech.

“It is not against the law to protest,” D.A. Chief of Staff Susan Schroeder said. “It is against the law to shut down a legal meeting so that no one would be able to speak,” “We believe that this is a victory for the first amendment.”

When the same argument was made in an appeal about 40 years ago, a supreme court justice found the penal code particularly troublesome since “…section 403’s prohibition of ‘disturbances’ potentially may collide with safeguarded First Amendment interests” (In re Kay [1 Cal. 3d 930]).

The Muslim Student Union at UCI, of which one defendant is president, was found to be deeply involved in the protest. The organization was suspended for an academic quarter and remains under probation. Emails and message board postings affiliated with the organization were found to have been integral to the planning of the protest. According to Schroeder, prosecuting the group as a whole would not have been easy for the D.A., since the Muslim Student Union is a registered student organization.

“We nurture a campus climate that promotes robust debate and welcomes different points of view,” UCI spokesman Rex Bossert said in a statement.

Of the 11, three are students at UC Riverside — the rest are from UC Irvine. All are said to have been disciplined by their respective universities. It is rumored that the Irvine students have been suspended for a quarter, however the university refuses to comment, according to UCI Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky.

“My view is that this is a criminal prosecution which never should have been brought. The 10 students acted wrongly in disturbing Ambassador Oren’s speech…” Chemerinsky said. “They were then properly disciplined by the university. That should have been the end of it. The prosecution was unnecessary and harmful.”

UCSD’s Muslim Student Association could not be reached for comment.