Dressed in formal suits, button-up shirts and neat ties, the
young men dubbed the “Irvine 11” appeared in court today, pleading not guilty to
misdemeanor charges of both interrupting and conspiring to interrupt a lecture held last
year on the UC Irvine campus, in which Israeli Ambassador to the United States
Michael Oren was invited to speak.
If convicted, the 11, many of whom are
still students, may face up to a year in jail.
No ruling was made today on defense motions filed last month to remove the Orange County District Attorney's office (OCDA) from the case. (More on that later in this post.)
- Accused of Anti-Muslim Bias, OC District Attorney Won't Recuse Office From Prosecution of UCI 11 Protesters
The majority of the prosecution is based on evidence
attained by the OCDA in a variety of ways, including subpoenas and warrants,
that are alleged to demonstrate the interruption was a planned event and, thus, a conspiracy.
Supporters of the Irvine 11 showed up in force both within
and outside the courtroom, many wearing multi-colored hijabs. The defendants
stood behind their lawyers throughout the hearing, alternating between watching
the judge, verifying with their respective attorneys, and trying not to look at
The OCDA has received
heated criticism from those who stand behind the 11, who include Muslim activists, civil rights groups and even UCI faculty members and deans. These supporters cast doubts on
the nature and motivation behind the DA's prosecution of the young activists.
The group's defense attorneys are currently advocating removing the OCDA from
the case, citing four claims they believe are preventing their clients from
receiving a fair trial:
Claim 1: “The manner in which the OCDA investigated the
case demonstrates bias against . . . co-defendants”;
Claim 2: “The OCDA obtained, relied on, distributed, and
remains in possession of privileged information”;
Claim 3: “The OCDA's statements to the media demonstrate
bias against defendants”;
Claim 4: “The OCDA's use of the term 'UCI Muslim Case'
demonstrates religious bias against defendants.”
Assistant District Attorney Dan Wagner denied all claims as
“vague, speculative, conclusory, and unsubstantiated,” including the notion
among Irvine 11 supporters that the prosecution is motivated by selective
enforcement of the law, based on content and the religion of the defendants. In
a press conference held after the trial, Wagner explained.
“The content doesn't
matter, they could have been yelling gibberish,” he said. “They [the defense] are making a
mountain out of something much smaller than a molehill. The First Amendment
rights of the speaker and the crowd were trampled on.”
In regards to
the OCDA's use of the term “UCI Muslim case” in emails with defense lawyers concerning proposed settlements of the case, Wagner implied that this stemmed
from a secretary's labeling but was logical, since the DA's office is currently
prosecuting other UCI students, and the fact that the Irvine 11 “call
themselves the Muslim Student Union.”
Wagner also defended the OCDA's possession of “privileged
information,” explicating that the search warrants were issued to Google for
message-board posts, and that the Internet search engine complied.
One nevertheless wonders about the motivation behind a
prosecution aided by an anonymous email, dated March 24, 2010, and addressed to
UC Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake, among others. It reads:
Dear Chancellor Drake,
For two years I have been wondering why Muslim students
at UCI have become the center of a global firestorm of ugliness and
This has cast the entire University and its students
under a dark cloud. I wondered who might be fostering the hatred that goes on
I understand that you are currently investigating the
disruption of the Ambassador Oren event on February 8, 2010. Despite claims by
the Muslim Student Union that this was an isolated incident undertaken without
the direction of the organization, there is evidence to the contrary.
Please review the attached emails and manifesto where you
will see the truth!
G. Yudof, President, University of
N. Gomez, [then] Vice Chancellor Student Affairs,
Rackauckas, Orange County District Attorney
C Elcott, President,
Jewish Federation Orange County
Dormitorio, Director, Student Conduct
Henisey, Police Chief, UCI
Agrela, Associate Chancellor, UCI
Geocaris, Chief of Camps Counsel, UCI
Emerson, Executive Director, The Investigative Project on Terrorism
For Jacqueline Goodman, who represents defendants Osama Shabiak and
Mohemed Abdelgany, the motivation is clear.
“No student stood
up and said, 'I'm a Muslim.' It was very political, and yet it's called the UCI
Muslim case,” said the defense lawyer. “These students were fighting for us all that day, speaking for
people whose voices have been silenced. They did that again today.”
went on to describe what she believes to be District Attorney Tony Rackauckas' “political opportunism,”
citing his surprise re-election announcement as one of the key motives behind the
The defense and prosecution will appear in court again on
May 13 at the Santa Ana Central Justice Center to discuss the sealing or
unsealing of material seized through search warrants. They'll be back in court on June 17 for
a ruling on the majority of the defense motions, including the demand to remove the OCDA from the case.
The formal trial is currently scheduled for Aug. 15 at 9 a.m.