Jury selection begins in ‘Irvine 11' case

SANTA ANA — Jury selection began Monday in the case against 10 students charged with misdemeanors for allegedly taking part in a protest against Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren at UC Irvine last year.

Prospective jurors were asked a variety of questions in an eight-page questionnaire, including whether they studied at UC Irvine, if their association with the school would affect their ability to be fair and impartial, and if they are familiar with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Other questions included whether jurors support the Israeli or Palestinian side in the conflict, their feelings toward the state of Israel, and if they harbor any negative feelings toward Muslims.

About 300 jurors filled out the questionnaire, and about 150 people filled the courtroom before and after lunch to receive jury instructions.

Judge Peter J. Wilson asked potential jurors if any of the five defense attorneys, defendants or other parties involved looked familiar, to which one juror said “pretty much all of them” did.

Of the defendants, two were absent from court proceedings, but are expected to be at the trial.

Charges against Hakim Nasreddine Kebir, one of the original 11 defendants, were tentatively dropped in July, the Orange County district attorney announced, pending Kebir’s completion of 40 hours of community service at a Costa Mesa soup kitchen.

The service is expected to happen Sept. 23.

The D.A. chose to file misdemeanor charges against the 11 students in February of this year after a grand jury investigation last summer presented its findings.

On Feb. 8, 2010, Oren spoke in front of hundreds, and was repeatedly interrupted by the so-called “Irvine 11,” who periodically stood up and shouted during his talk.

Among the handful of supporters at Monday’s jury selection proceedings was supporter Salam Al-Marayati, of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

Al-Marayati said any punishment the students should face would be best coming from the university, rather than district attorney.

The trial could last through the end of September, Wilson informed the potential jurors. All the jurors are expected to report back to court at 9 a.m. Thursday unless told otherwise.

The students — from UC Irvine and UC Riverside — face up to six months in jail if convicted.