WATCH: The Irvine 11: Free Speech on Trial (Video)
On Friday, March 10, eleven Muslim students will be arraigned on criminal charges for "conspiracy" to disrupt Israeli ambassador Michael Oren's 2010 speech at UC Irvine. If convicted, the students face up to six months in prison. Since heckling is common on college campuses, are these students being unfairly singled out? A Mother Jones video:
UPDATE 1, Friday, March 11, 3:06 p.m. PST: Reem Salahi, an attorney on the Irvine 11's legal defense team, tells me that the team has filed a motion to move the case to the California Attorney General’s jurisdiction. "We do not feel confident in the ability of the Orange County District Attorney (OCDA) to prosecute this case," Salahi said. "They have engaged in prosecutorial misconduct."
She claims that OCDA illegally used subpoenas reserved for felony cases to obtain confidential client-attorney emails as the basis for the Irvine 11's misdemeanor case. In addition, Salahi alleges there is discrimination involved; she cites an internal OCDA email with the subject heading, "UCI Muslim case," even though the OCDA’s charges do not involve religion. "It raises the question of whether this is truly a case about the First Amendment," Salahi said.
Orange County Assistant District Attorney Wagner told the Orange County Register that his office had used the "UCI Muslim case" subject line as "shorthand" for Muslim Student Union. He also insisted that the defense has not stated "any grounds at all that would lead to the suppression of the evidence [obtained]."
The judge will consider the defense's motion, and has rescheduled the arraignment for Friday, April 15. More updates will be added to this post as they occur.
UPDATE 2, Friday, April 15, 5:05 p.m. PST: At today’s arraignment, all 11 defendants entered "not guilty" pleas. Reem Salahi, one of the "Irvine 11" attorneys, told me the case raises questions about "whether dissent will become criminalized." The judge said the defense’s arguments to remove the Orange County DA from the case will be heard June 17. The judge also set a pre-trial date of June 30 and a trial date of August 15.
There is a possibility that media statements made by the Orange County DA’s office, including Susan Schroeder’s video interview with Mother Jones, will be entered as evidence of the DA’s "selective and discriminatory prosecution," Salahi says. "The DA viewed this case differently than other prosecutions. That’s clear from looking at the internal documents, and hearing some of the statements they made—including the video on your website where Susan Schroeder….insinuates that the students were anti-Semitic."
Schroeder was not available for comment, but Orange County Assistant District Attorney Dan Wagner said, "To put a finer point on it, what they were saying was certainly anti-Israel." Asked if anti-Israel and anti-Semitic was the same thing, Wagner replied, "I think they are making a distinction about that. To me, it’s about the same." He added later, "It’s pathetically slender evidence [they have] to say that we have religious bias against them."
Earlier this month, Jewish students at Brandeis University disrupted a Q&A session following Israeli parliamentarian Avi Dichter’s speech at the university. Students stood up one by one, accusing Dichter of war crimes, then left the room. Below is a video of the incident. Although the incident at UC Irvine was very similar in execution, the Brandeis students have not been prosecuted.