The mood among the "Irvine 11" soared Wednesday after members of a liberal Jewish organization delivered more than 5,000 signatures to the Orange County district attorney's office denouncing the charges filed against the students for disrupting a speech by the Israeli ambassador to the United States a year ago Tuesday.
Jacqueline Goodman, the defense attorney for seven of the 11 Muslim Student Union members charged with two misdemeanor counts of planning to and disrupting a public meeting, said her clients are grateful to the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), which organized and delivered the signatures, as well as members of the interfaith community who are standing beside them.
"I and the students are over the moon with gratitude for that kind of effort from the Jewish community," Goodman said.
The Irvine 11, students from UC Irvine and UC Riverside, have denied the charges through legal counsel and members of the UCI Muslim Student Union.
The signatures were delivered around 11 a.m. Wednesday to Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas' office, said Rachel Roberts, a UCLA law student and volunteer for JVP.
After waiting for more than an hour, no one from the district attorney's office met with the two JVP members who delivered the signatures, said Roberts, who also volunteers as a law clerk for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Anaheim.
"I really, sincerely hope that the D.A. will drop the charges," she said.
Support for the Irvine 11 among Jewish and other religious leaders is not unanimous. A leading Los Angeles Jewish rights organization, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, on Tuesday came out in support of Rackauckas. The prominent center called the Feb. 8, 2010, protest on the speech an attack on the free-speech rights of Ambassador Michael Oren, who was unable to speak over the disruption that day.
Aside from the signatures from JVP, a group of 100 UCI faculty members, including five deans, sent a letter to Rackauckas urging him to drop the charges. The letter is available for view on the school's website.
The group, which included the dean of the law school, Erwin Chemerinsky, and Pulitzer Prize winners Jack Miles and Barry Siegel, said that although the students were wrong to repeatedly disrupt Oren's speech, criminal charges go too far.
The MSU was suspended for an academic quarter and is currently on probation following an investigation by the school administration.
Susan Schroeder, the D.A.'s spokeswoman, said her office received letters for and against the charges, but the case is about the law and the facts, not interest groups.
"If the speaker was Martin Luther King and the people disrupting him were students who are members from the Ku Klux Klan, and they were shutting down Martin Luther King's speech and preventing him from speaking, we would've filed charges," she said.
When people can't argue based on the facts, they cry racism, and that's silly, she said.
An arraignment is scheduled on March 11, Goodman said.
If convicted, the students could face anywhere from probation to six months in jail.