Members of the Irvine 11, students arrested for protesting Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s speech at UC Irvine last year, plead not guilty to two misdemeanor charges at their arraignment on Friday.
The formal trial is scheduled for August 15, 2011. If convicted, each student faces up to six months in jail.
In addition to the pleas, the Orange County District Attorney’s office filed an opposition to the defendants’ request for DA Tony Rackauckas to be removed from the case.
At the March 11, 2011 hearing, lawyers of the Irvine 11 filed a request to remove Rackauckas from the case on grounds of unlawful conduct in the proceedings leading up to the conviction.
According to defense attorneys, the means by which the prosecution obtained evidence, including search warrants, grand jury subpoenas, and internal documents titled “UCI Muslim Case,” demonstrate a clear bias and conflict of interest on behalf of the DA’s office.
At a press conference held after Friday’s hearing, Dan Stormer, an attorney representing the Irvine 11, called for a prosecution that is “more objective, more fair and has a more reasonable basis for prosecution, to take on the case.”
In the motion to refute these allegations, the DA expressed that these complaints are meritless and do not demonstrate any possibility that the DA will treat these proceedings unfairly.
“The content of the protest is not in question here,” stated Deputy District Attorney Dan Wagner during the press conference held after the arraignment, “The protestors could have been standing up and yelling gibberish, the fact of the matter is that the disruption that they caused trampled upon other people’s first amendment rights and that is what this prosecution is based upon.”
A decision regarding the DA’s removal from the case will be made on June 17.
More than 100 supporters of the Irvine 11 appeared at the courthouse, some waiting nearly three hours for the proceedings to conclude. Parents, students, community members and activists of various backgrounds were in attendance.
Estee Chandler, a representative of the Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization that collected over 5,000 signatures demanding the Orange County DA to drop all the charges against the Irvine 11, was also present along with Jeff Warner, Action Coordinator for LA Jews for Peace.
“This same type of protest has been conducted in other parts of the country by Jewish and Israeli students, without any severe consequences for the protestors,” explained Chandler, “It is clear that the Irvine 11 are being targeted because of their cultural and religious background.”
“Although our numbers are smaller at this hearing, our support for the Irvine 11 is solid” stated Jasmine Riad, a first year student at UC Irvine, “we will continue to come out and show the prosecutors and the judge that the conviction of these students is not only unjust but it goes against the principles that we value in this country, the most important of which is freedom of speech.”