[UPDATED] Irvine 11 Charged With Misdemeanors and Face Jail, Probation, Community Service if Convicted
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?"Merde
or no, the OCDA is pressing the case. "We don't think they have any grounds at all," lead prosecutorDan 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."
"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."
"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."
A protest was held outside the Orange County district attorney's office in Santa Ana in January, afterTony Rackauckas
announced he is seeking misdemeanor criminal charges against 11 students who repeatedly disrupted a speech at UC Irvine last year by Israel's ambassador to the U.S.
Friday morning, protesters will move across the street to the Orange County courthouse, where the students are scheduled to be arraigned at 8:30 a.m.
At a town hall in Anaheim last weekend, the UCI campus group called Stand With the Eleven revealed its members and supporters plan to show up dressed in black and wearing duct tape over their mouths as they enter the courthouse, which typically only draws cops, lawyers and defendants for misdemeanor matters. Stand With the Eleven recently posted a video supporting the students:
The meeting the group attended at the Islamic Institute of Orange County Saturday evening drew about 200 supporters of the so-called Irvine 11. The charged students, who hail from UCI and UC Riverside and could get jail time if convicted, previously received support from 100 prominent UCI deans and faculty members; a separate group of Jewish faculty members; and several Islamic, Jewish and civil-liberties organizations. All have urged Rackauckas to drop the charges.
Hussam Ayloush, the executive director of the Anaheim-based Council on American-Islamic Relations' Greater Los Angeles office, drew a comparison between the rude speech of the students who interrupted Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren and the "bigoted mob" that gathered outside an Islamic fund-raiser in Yorba Linda last month.
The Irvine 11 and the Yorba Linda protesters had the right to say what they said, according to Ayloush, adding, "For me, it's free speech either way. Even hate speech is free speech."
By the way, Rackauckas has also received support from Jewish leaders and others for pressing his unprecedented case. The DA maintains the Irvine 11 repeatedly violated Oren's right to free speech--and criminally conspired to do so.
The Islamic Institute of Orange County (IIOC) hosts "Stand With the Irvine 11: Community Town Hall and Action" at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in the IIOC Multipurpose Room, 1220 N. State College Blvd., Irvine.
The event flier follows after the jump.
(Scroll down a couple of posts in case you missed the important correction to the item about officials from UC Irvine and the Orange County district attorney's office having met with a Simon Wiesenthal Center director.)UPDATED, FEB. 9, 2:46 P.M.:
"As faculty of the University of California, Irvine, we are deeply distressed by the decision of the Orange County district attorney to file criminal charges against the students who disrupted AmbassadorMichael Oren
's speech on campus," reads a letter signed by 100 campus faculty members urgingTony Rackauckas
to "dismiss" the case.
Signers include 14 Chancellor's Professors and Distinguished Professors, as well as Dean of the Law School Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of Social Ecology Valerie Jenness, Dean of Humanities Vicki Ruiz, Dean of Undergraduate Education Sharon Salinger and Executive Vice Dean of Medicine F. Allan Hubbell.
Others who signed include: Pulitzer Prize-winning writers Jack Miles and Barry Siegel (of the literary journalism program); neurobiology pioneer James McGaugh; history scholar, FBI John Lennon files expert and Weekly pal Jon Wiener; Penelope Maddy, famous for her work in the philosophy of mathematics; award-winning historian of China Kenneth Pomeranz; and seven law professors.
They concede, "The students were wrong to prevent a speaker invited to the campus from speaking and being heard," but they note the so-called Irvine 11 and UCI's Muslim Student Union "were disciplined for this conduct by the university, including the MSU being suspended from being a student organization for a quarter."
That university punishment is characterized as "sufficient," while the criminal charges are deemed "detrimental to our campus" and "a dangerous precedent for the use of the criminal law against nonviolent protests on campus."
Rackauckas is accused of "undoing the healing process which has occurred over the last year." But, if the district attorney continues to press the case, the faculty urges him and the students "to agree to resolve the matter" with punishments of community service, short probation (i.e., no jail time) and the removal of the charges from individual records.
Susan Schroeder, Rackauckas' chief of staff, tells The Orange County Register the district attorney's office has received hundreds of letters in support and opposition to the charges against the students, but they are not what is driving the criminal case. The law is, she is reported to have said.
Here is the full letter and signatures (which you can also see on UCI.edu):
As faculty of the University of California, Irvine, we are deeply distressed by the decision of the Orange County district attorney to file criminal charges against the students who disrupted Ambassador Michael Oren's speech on campus. 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. But the individual students and the Muslim Student Union were disciplined for this conduct by the university, including the MSU being suspended from being a student organization for a quarter. This is sufficient punishment. There is no need for criminal prosecution and criminal sanctions. The use of the criminal justice system will be detrimental to our campus as it inherently will be divisive and risk undoing the healing process which has occurred over the last year. It also sets a dangerous precedent for the use of the criminal law against nonviolent protests on campus.
We urge the district attorney to dismiss the criminal charges. At the very least, we urge the district attorney and the students to agree to resolve the charges with the students performing community service and a short probation, after which the matter will be expunged from the students' records.
Frank D. Bean, Chancellor's Professor of Sociology
Kitty Calavita, Chancellor's Professor of Criminology, Law and Society
Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean, School of Law
Joseph F. C. DiMento, Professor of Law and Policy, Planning & Design
Valerie Jenness, Dean, School of Social Ecology
Catherine Liu, Director, Humanities Center
Duncan Luce, Distinguished Research Professor of Cognitive Science
Penelope Maddy, Distinguished Professor of Logic & Philosophy of Science
George Marcus, Chancellor's Professor of Anthropology
James M. McGaugh, Research Professor, Neurobiology and Behavior
Carrie Menkel-Meadow, Chancellor's Professor of Law
Jack Miles, Distinguished Professor of English and Religious Studies
Mark Petracca, Chair, Dept. of Political Science
Kenneth Pomeranz, Chancellor's Professor of History
Vicki Ruiz, Dean, School of Humanities
Sharon Salinger, Dean of Undergraduate Education
Barry Siegel, Director, Literary Journalism Program
Brook Thomas, Chancellor's Professor of English
Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Chair, Dept. of History
Henry Weinstein, Senior Lecturer in Law and Literary Journalism
Jon Wiener, Professor of History
Dan L. Burk, Chancellor's Professor of Law
Catherine Fisk, Chancellor's Professor of Law
David A. Snow, Chancellor's Professor of Sociology
F. Allan Hubbell, Executive Vice Dean, School of Medicine
Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Distinguished Professor of English & Comparative Literature
Etienne Balibar, Distinguished Professor of Humanities
Greg Duncan, Distinguished Professor of Education
Grace C. Tonner, Associate Dean of Lawyering Skills
Ulrike Strasser, Associate Professor, History and Director, European Studies
Irene Tucker, Associate Professor of English
James Given, Professor of History
Dickson D. Bruce, Jr., Professor of History, Emeritus
Hugh Roberts, Assoc. Prof. Dept. of English
Robert Newsom, Professor Emeritus, Department of English
Mark Poster, Emeritus Professor, Film and Media Studies and History
Sharon Block, Associate Professor of History
Ann Van Sant, English
Jennifer Terry, Chair and Associate Professor of Women's Studies
Laura J. Mitchell, Associate Professor of History
Emily Rosenberg, Professor of History
R. Radhakrishnan, Chancellor's Professor of English and Comparative Literature
Eyal Amiran, Associate Professor, Comparative Literature and Film and Media Studies
Jerome Christensen, Professor of English
Susan Jarratt, Comparative Literature
Rebeca Helfer, English Department
Annette Schlichter, Associate Professor, Comparative Literature
Timothy Tackett, Professor of History
Touraj Daryaee, History Department
Carolyn P. Boyd, Professor Emerita, Department of History
Amy Wilentz, Professor of English and Literary Journalism
Victoria Silver, Associate Professor of English
Alice Fahs, Associate Professor of History
Anne Walthall, Professor of History
Laura Kang, Associate Professor of Women's Studies
Alexander Gelley, Professor, Dept. of Comparative Literature
Elizabeth Allen, Associate Professor of English
Rubén G. Rumbaut, Professor of Sociology
David A. Smith, Professor of Sociology and Planning, Policy and Design
Sarah Farmer, Associate Professor of History
Raul Fernandez, Social Sciences/Chicano Latino Studies
Keith Nelson, Professor Emeritus of History, Director, Program in Religious Studies
Estela Zarate, Assistant Professor, Department of Education
Leo Chavez, Anthropology
Deborah R. Vargas, Assistant Professor, Chicano/Latino Studies
Thurston Domina, Assistant Professor of Education and Sociology
DeSipio, Chair, Department of Chicano/Latino Studies
Jutta Heckhausen, Professor, Psychology and Social Behavior
Heidi Tinsman, Associate Professor of History
Ellen Burt, Professor of French and Comparative Literature
Belinda Robnett-Olsen, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology
Robert Folkenflik, Edward A. Dickson Emeritus Professor of English
Ron Carlson, Professor of English
Edwin Amenta, Professor of Sociology and History
Francesca Polletta, Professor of Sociology
Susan K. Brown, Associate Professor of Sociology
Adriana Johnson, Comparative Literature
Rachel Sarah O'Toole, Assistant Professor, History Department
Nancy McLaughlin, Assistant Professor, History Department
Steven C. Topik, Professor of History
Gilbert G. Gonzalez, Professor, Chicano-Latino Studies
Judy Stepan-Norris, Sociology
Julia Reinhard Lupton, Professor of English and Comparative Literature
Spencer Olin, Professor Emeritus of History
Glen Mimura, Associate Dean of Graduate Study, School of Humanities
Ana Elizabeth Rosas, Assistant Professor, Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies and History
Robert Moeller, Department of History
Elizabeth M. Guthrie, French, retired
Cecile Whiting, Chair, Department of Art History
Cynthia Feliciano, Associate Professor, Sociology and Chicano/Latino Studies
David S. Meyer, Professor, Sociology
Charlie Chubb, Professor, Cognitive Sciences
Alejandro Morales, Professor, Department of Chicano/Latino Studies
Ian Munro, Associate Professor of Drama
Luke Hegel-Cantarella, Head of Scenic Design - Claire Trevor School of the Arts
David Igler, Associate Professor of History
Stephen Barker, Associate Dean, Claire Trevor School of the Arts
Cliff Faulkner, Senior Lecturer, Drama Department
Vincent Olivieri, Designer/Composer/Assistant Professor, Drama Department
Carol Burke, Professor, English
*CORRECTEDUPDATE, FEB. 8, 4:18 P.M.:
After UC Irvine ChancellorMichael Drake
launched a probe into the Feb. 8, 2010, Irvine 11 incident, the Simon Wiesenthal Center's director of campus outreach, RabbiAron Hier
. Drake went on to reprimand the Muslim students and suspend the Muslim Student Union.
After Before subpoenas were issued and a grand jury investigation into the Irvine 11 was launched, Hier and UC Riverside Hillel Director Adina Hemley met staff at the OCDA's Santa Ana office, including Susan Schroeder, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas' chief of staff. Afterward, Hier commended the agency and invited top DA officials to the Los Angeles museum dedicated to educating the masses about racism and the Holocaust. accepted. On that on Friday announced the filing of criminal, albeit misdemeanor charges against the Irvine 11.
However one stands on the issue, there's no denying this: Rabbi Aron Hier's got juice.
Asked over the phone today his reaction to the DA seeking criminal charges against the young Muslims, Hier said he is "not a legal scholar" and that he'd leave any discussion of punishment up to legal experts. But he also made it clear he believes the matter belongs in the courts.
"This is a problem," Hier said. "My organization monitors instances of racism, antisemitism and anti-Zionism on all campuses, many worldwide. We have our finger on the pulse of this, and we see many instances of hatred. From a global perspective, what this is about is a worldwide effort to suppress free speech when it is not part of the radical agenda. They do it all the time. It's not just Jewish free speech, it's free speech in general that is under attack here."
He cited other incidents: the Jewish Society at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom succumbing to pressure from radicals and canceling an appearance by Israel historian Benny Morris around the same time as Oren's fateful speech in Irvine. Nearly a year to the day before the U.K. flap, Israeli Consul General Akiva Tor had to be protected by San Jose State University police when students there rushed the stage from which he was speaking. What is it about February?
"Radical left-wing groups, and sometimes radical Muslim groups, organize to shut down free speech," Hier maintained. "This is all about free speech. If it's something radical agent provocateurs don't agree with, you are not free to speak it."
He called video taken of Oren's speech "shocking," particularly the parts where Chancellor Drake is heard pleading, "This is not right" and "This is not the way to treat a guest."
"The video shows a terrible incident that denied those gathered, 500 to 700 people, their constitutional rights," Hier said. "They were lawfully gathered, and they were denied their constitutional rights. That's not free speech. . . . This was a lawful meeting, but because of a conspiracy to disrupt, free speech was blocked."
Since Hier opened our chat saying he monitors campuses around the world, I asked if he could name other places where criminal charges have been brought against students who disrupt meetings.
"That's a good question," he responded. "I am unaware of criminal charges at other universities."
Asked if he foresees other students who may share his beliefs having a problem expressing themselves at campus gatherings lest they face criminal conviction, Hier said he would leave it up to legal experts to determine when criminal charges are warranted.
"Our emphasis is universities," he said. "I'm not a legal expert. This is a process for the criminal courts. Campuses and these groups have to come up with some remedy so this doesn't happen again."
Hier called Rackauckas "courageous" for taking his legal stand against the Irvine 11.
"I am not a legal scholar, but we need to hold this discussion within the halls of law," he said. "People have to get used to listening to ideas, even if they don't like them. You can't rush the stage of a lawful meeting."
He said when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can speak at Columbia University and be subjected to fewer disruptions than Oren did at UCI, something is out of whack. "I don't think that is fair or right," Hier said.
I closed by telling Hier about a statement criticizing the criminal charges against the Irvine 11 (scroll way down) that was signed by Muslim leaders who routinely participate in interfaith programs with leaders from various religions, including Jewish rabbis. Since Hier believes what happened at UCI must be discussed, I asked if he's heard of any interfaith initiatives to bring Jews and Muslims together to talk about it.
He had not.
One quarter we'd neglected when it came to reactions to the Irvine 11 charges was UC Irvine officialdom itself. Here it is, in all its glory, posted onUCI.edu
Today, the Orange County District Attorney announced that he was pressing charges against the 11 students arrested during the disruption of Ambassador Oren's Feb. 8, 2010, speech. The District Attorney's announcement reflects action independent of the University. He has subpoena power and access to information that we do not. From our perspective we thoroughly and fairly investigated and adjudicated the matter last year. Conduct violations were addressed fully, consistent with the guidelines of the Student Code of Conduct.
Since the university's resolution of this matter in the summer of 2010, our campus community has continued to build bridges of understanding and foundations for respectful and meaningful dialogue.
-- Cathy Lawhon, University Communications
A Jewish-rights group will hand deliver to the Orange County district attorney's office petitions stating they, too, should be charged with crimes--as they have engaged in the same form of protests as the Irvine 11--as well as a letter signed by rabbis around the country blasting the prosecution of the Muslims.
ORIGINAL POST, FEB. 4, 5:45 P.M.: Each member of "the Irvine 11" is charged with misdemeanor counts of disrupting a meeting and conspiring to do so and faces jail, probation and community service as possible sentences if convicted, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas announced today.
The Irvine 11 refers to the students, mostly Muslims from UC Irvine, who interrupted a Feb. 8, 2010, speech on campus by Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. They were later arrested, cited and released. Arraignment is scheduled for March 11 in Santa Ana for: Mohamed Mohy-Eldeen Abdelgany, 23; Khalid Gahgat Akari, 19; Aslam Abbasi Akhtar, 23; Joseph Tamim Haider, 23; Taher Mutaz Herzallah, 21; Hakim Nasreddine Kebir, 20; Shaheen Waleed Nassar, 21; Mohammad Uns Qureashi, 19; Ali Mohammad Sayeed, 23; Osama Ahmen Shabaik, 22; and Asaad Mohamedidris Traina, 19. Akari, Herzallah and Nassar attended UC Riverside at the time of the speech; the rest attended UCI.
"This case is being filed because there was an organized attempt to squelch the speaker, who was invited to speak to a group at UCI," said Rackauckas, whose full statement ends this post. "These defendants meant to stop this speech and stop anyone else from hearing his ideas, and they did so by disrupting a lawful meeting. This is a clear violation of the law and failing to bring charges against this conduct would amount to a failure to uphold the Constitution."
A statement from his office breaks down the laws that were allegedly broken by the Irvine 11:
Law Concerning Disturbance of a Meeting or Assembly (Penal Code § 403)
Penal Code § 403, entitled, "Disturbance of assembly or meeting other than religious or political," states: "Every person who, without authority of law, willfully disturbs or breaks up any assembly or meeting that is not unlawful in its character . is guilty of a misdemeanor."
The California Supreme Court stated (In re Kay, supra, 1 Cal. 3rd 930, 946) that the section required that the defendant substantially impaired the conduct of the meeting by intentionally committing acts in violation of implicit customs or usages or of explicit rules for governance of the meeting, of which he knew, or as a reasonable man should have known. "Substantial impairment" was determined by the "actual impact" on the course of the meeting, such activity, when it is intentional and when it "substantially impairs the conduct of a meeting, violates section 403." Finally, a violation of Penal Code § 403 does not require that a defendant's conduct create a clear and present danger of violent conduct on the part of the defendant or of others or that it endangered public safety and order.
Law Concerning Conspiracy (Penal Code § 182) and Proof by Circumstantial Evidence
Penal Code § 182 renders it unlawful for "two or more persons [to] conspire to commit any crime." It further states, "Conspiracy is a specific intent crime requiring an intent to agree or conspire, and a further intent to commit the target crime," with at least one overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy be committed by one or more of the parties to the conspiracy.
Evidence of an express agreement is not necessary. Acts, circumstances, or statements which occurred before or during the formation of the conspiracy, or acts or conduct evidencing a common design or plan, may prove the conspiracy.
The U.S. Supreme Court has found that the relationships and associations of the parties involved may be religious, and if a relevant circumstance to the existence of a conspiracy, are not barred from admission by constitutional provisions guaranteeing freedom of religion. (People v. Bautista (2008) 163 Cal. App. 4th 762, 784, quoting U.S. Supreme Court in Dawson v. Delaware (1992) 503 U.S. 159, 156)
The DA's office claims the conspiracy charge could be filed as a felony, but "after taking into consideration all of the facts and circumstances of this case," Rackauckas exercised his "discretion to file this count as a misdemeanor."
The complaint alleges Abdelgany, who was president of the Muslim Student Union at UCI, planned the response to Oren six days before the speech. The union discussed the decision to disrupt Oren at a general assembly meeting the next day, which is also when Abdelgany e-mailed the MSU-UCI Message Board, announcing that "we will be staging a University of Chicago Style disruption of the Ambassador's speech," the DA charges.
"Logistical" meetings aimed at interrupting Oren were held the following days leading up to the ambassador's appearance before 500 to 700 people at the event co-sponsored by Anteaters for Israel, UCI's School of Law, Department of Political Science, and Center for the Study of Democracy, according to the complaint.
On Feb. 6, 2010, Abdelgany is accused of sending an email to the MSU-UCI Message Board containing the "Game Plan" for the disruption of the Israeli Ambassador's event and an admonishment to "not share this e-mail with others." On the same day, Abdelgany is accused of emailing the MSU-UCI elected governing board and defendants Haider, Sayeed, and Shabaik. Abdelgany is accused of advising in the e-mail that "to the outside," the disruption of the Ambassador Oren's speech was to be portrayed as done by individuals, not the MSU, in order to "put up an obstacle" against the UCI administration in case it was to "come after MSU" following the disruption.
On Feb. 7, 2010, Abdelgany is accused of sending an email to the MSU-UCI Message Board advising "nondisruptors" to cheer after each "disruptor" is finished. He is accused of asking for a volunteer to print statements and paste them on index cards to be used for the disruption of Ambassador Oren's speech.
Here's how the DA breaks down the individual actions against Oren:
First, Shabaik is accused of disrupting Ambassador Oren's speech by standing up and shouting, "Michael Oren, propagating murder is not free speech."
Traina is accused of then disrupting Ambassador Oren's speech by standing up and shouting.
Haider is accused of then disrupting Ambassador Oren's speech by standing up and shouting.
Qureashi is accused of then disrupting Ambassador Oren's speech by standing and shouting, "Michael Oren you are a war criminal."
Sayeed is accused of then disrupting Ambassador Oren's speech by standing up and shouting.
Herzallah is accused of then disrupting Ambassador Oren's speech by standing and shouting, "It's a shame this University has sponsored a mass murderer like yourself."
Akari is accused of then disrupting Ambassador Oren's speech by standing up and shouting.
Nassar is accused of then disrupting Ambassador Oren's speech by standing and shouting, "You sir are an accomplice to genocide."
Abdelgany is accused of then disrupting Ambassador Oren's speech by standing and shouting, "Michael Oren, propagating murder is not an expression of free speech."
Akhtar is accused of then disrupting Ambassador Oren's speech by standing and shouting, "Michael Oren, murder is not free speech."
Kebir is accused of then disrupting Ambassador Oren's speech by beginning a loud chant with the words, "Whose University?"
All 11 defendants were arrested, cited and released. Separately, the university took action later against the MSU that included suspension.
The grand jury's questioning of students led many observers to assume Rackauckas would pursue criminal charges against them. This led to protests, editorials and pleas from civic and religious leaders in support of the Irvine 11 and their free-speech rights.
Rackauckas' statement follows:
Date: February 4, 2011
STATEMENT BY DISTRICT ATTORNEY TONY RACKAUCKAS REGARDING CONSPIRACY TO DISRUPT UCI MEETING
SANTA ANA - The following is a statement by Orange County District Attorney regarding charges filed against 11 defendants conspiring and disrupting a lawful assembly at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), during a speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren on Feb. 8, 2010:
"It is the sworn duty of the District Attorney to 'support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California.' Freedom of speech is a precious Constitutional right that goes to the heart of our democratic form of government.
This case is being filed because there was an organized attempt to squelch the speaker, who was invited to speak to a group at UCI. These defendants meant to stop this speech and stop anyone else from hearing his ideas, and they did so by disrupting a lawful meeting. This is a clear violation of the law and failing to bring charges against this conduct would amount to a failure to uphold the Constitution.
We must decide whether we are a Country of laws or a Country of anarchy. We cannot tolerate a pre-planned violation of the law, even if the crime takes place on a school campus and even if the defendants are college students. In our democratic society, we cannot tolerate a deliberate, organized, repetitive and collective effort to significantly disrupt a speaker, who hundreds assembled to hear. We cannot tolerate having a group deciding to prevent a speaker from speaking, an audience from listening, and the speaker and the audience from engaging in an exchange of ideas in the form of questions and answers.
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