SANTA ANA — An Orange County Superior Court judge on Thursday ordered the district attorney's office to remove its main investigator and three top deputies from the case against a group of college students accused of disrupting an ambassador's speech at UC Irvine.
Judge Peter Wilson's dismissal of the prosecutors attempts to remedy the D.A.'s unauthorized use of privileged documents used to help build a case against the Irvine 11, a group of UCI and UC Riverside students charged with conspiracy to disrupt Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren's February 2010 speech at the UCI campus.
Wilson's move rids the case of lead investigator Paul Kelly — who was expected to testify against the Irvine 11 before his removal — senior assistant district attorneys William Feccia and Rebecca Olivieri, and Assistant District Attorney Mike Lubinski.
While looking through thousands of documents obtained through search warrants, Kelly
came across communications between the Irvine 11 and their defense attorney, Reem Salahi. The defense identified 20,000 pages, deemed privileged by the judge, in the D.A.'s possession.
At least one email between Salahi and a student was used to bring new charges against that student.
Wilson said Kelly seemed unaware of the protocols that needed to be followed when he came across the privileged attorney-client communications.
"It's a stop and discuss," Wilson said. "It's not a self-police."
The Orange County district attorney's office now has to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that none of the evidence it plans to use was directly or indirectly obtained through privileged information, Wilson ruled.
The defense attorneys initially asked the court to recuse the D.A.'s office from the case altogether because, they argued, the use of the privileged information prejudiced the case against the students. The defense also said that it would be difficult for the prosecutors to argue the case fairly when considering the level of involvement top deputy district attorneys and District Attorney Tony Rackauckas himself have in the Irvine 11 case.
Wilson contended that the breach was not severe enough to remove the district attorney's office.
The next court hearing is scheduled at 9 a.m. July 21 at the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana.