”Of course it was planned,” said defense attorney Jacqueline Goodman in her opening arguments today, addressing the charge that the so-called Irvine 11 (now 10) conspired to disrupt a public speech.
“They conspired to obey the law, which is the opposite of a criminal conspiracy,” she said.
The defense team referred to the same protest-planning emails brought forth by prosecutors yesterday. They argued that those emails showed that the defendants had sought legal advice to ensure they would be staying within the bounds of the law. A criminal conspiracy, Goodman said, “requires that the goal be a crime.”
Context is key in looking at the case, the defense argued. Attorney Lisa Holder told jurors that the students were speaking out against violence, and that they “modeled their behavior after revered leaders that they had studied at UC Irvine,” including Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.
Attorneys attempted to give jurors a quick history lesson on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by bringing to the witness stand Saree Makdisi, a professor of english and comparative literature at UCLA and author of Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation.
At the time of the incident, UC Irvine's Muslim Student Union, which most of the defendants were a part of, put out a statement which said that Israel had “massacred” 1,400 people in Gaza. It added that “Oren is an outspoken supporter of the recent war on Gaza and stands in the way of international law by refusing to cooperate with the United Nation's Goldstone Report, a fact-finding mission endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council.” Makdisi testified that there is legitimacy to the statements.
The defense also brought up Sanah Yassin, who protested a speech by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the University of Chicago in 2009. It was discovered through the emails that Irvine 11 modeled its demonstration after this incident, where about 30 student activists stood up, one by one, in a crowded auditorium, and shouted statements opposing Olmert's views and actions. Attorneys said no protestor was arrested.
“Similar protests had happened throughout history, and I was trying to exercise my right to free speech,” Yassin explained.
Goodman also wanted jurors to understand the “context of heckling” and compared the Irvine 11 to hecklers at a comedy club. It's “rude, not illegal,” she said.
Holder added, “A lack of courtesy is not a crime.”
The 10 UCI and UC Riverside students face misdemeanor charges of disrupting and/or conspiring to disrupt a public speech. If convicted, they face up to six months in jail.
The trial continues on Wednesday.