Professor accused of limiting free speech

SANTA ANA — A UC Irvine professor overstepped his boundaries when he told students that no disruptions were allowed during the Israeli ambassador's visit last year, according to testimony given during Wednesday's Irvine 11 trial.

According to UCI comparative literature professor Rei Terada's testimony, before introducing Ambassador Michael Oren on Feb. 8, 2010, political science professor Mark Petracca, who emceed the event, told the audience he had the highest expectation for civility for the ambassador — a level that would exceed the respect given even during a joint session of Congress.

In a video of the event shown in court, Petracca said, "This is, after all, not a street corner; it is a university. It is not the British Parliament; it is a university. And it is not even a joint session of Congress hearing the president of the United States. It is a university."

Terada, an expert on the history and guidelines of free speech, told the jury that during the span of her 20-year career, she has never seen someone attempt to impose such rules during a politically charged event, one that is expected to attract protests on a university campus.

Prosecutor Dan Wagner challenged Terada's testimony, reminding her that statements from the top administrator of the school, Chancellor Michael Drake, echoed that of Petracca. Wagner further challenged her testimony as an opinion.

Terada, however, said both Drake and Petracca didn't have the authority to set that standard.

"They were saying what they wanted to happen," Terada said.

The defense spent the rest of the day presenting evidence — including showing a video of a similar protest at the University of Chicago — and questioning past students from UCI and UC Riverside in an attempt to show that the Irvine 11's behavior was within the norm of a charged political event on a university campus.

The 10 UCI and UCR students are charged with a misdemeanor for allegedly conspiring to disrupt Oren's speech and a misdemeanor for allegedly disrupting his speech.

The eleventh's charges were tentatively dropped pending his completion of community service at a soup kitchen in Costa Mesa.

Prosecutors are arguing the students prevented Oren of his right to speak and the audience's right to hear him, while the defense is also arguing that it was the students' 1st Amendment right to speech that was violated when the Orange County district attorney pressed charges.

The students face up to six months in jail if convicted.

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