SANTA ANA — An Orange County Superior Court jury will decide the fate of 10 college students accused of illegally disrupting Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren's speech last year at UC Irvine.
After two full days of closing statements from six defense attorneys and one prosecutor, the so-called Irvine 11 case was given to the jurors. Deliberations on two misdemeanor counts of conspiring to and then disrupting the address are set to begin Wednesday morning and last one to two days.
Closing statements ended Tuesday afternoon, after defense attorneys and the prosecution both invoked free speech rights in their arguments. The Orange County district attorney's office contends that the protesters prevented Oren from speaking freely when they cut off his address. The defense argued that prosecution after the fact was meant to chill criticism of Israel by Muslim Americans.
In their closing, the defense attorneys likened the seven students from UCI and three from UC Riverside to Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Cesar Chavez.
"[They] are serving our society with their conscious," said Jacqueline Goodman, one of the defense attorneys.
She said that the students left plenty of time for Oren to finish his speech after they left the ballroom at 6:25 p.m. Feb. 8, 2010. Oren completed his address but cut out a planned question-and-answer session.
Lisa Holder, another defense attorney, said the defendants' shouted comments that were impolite and critical of Israel but legally protected by the 1st Amendment.
"Ultimately what was disruptive was the message," she said.
"Being rude may be unpleasant, but it's not unlawful," said another defense attorney, Dan Stormer.
In his rebuttal of the lawyers' closing arguments, Deputy District Attorney Dan Wagner said the subjects chosen by the Irvine 11 in their protest were irrelevant. The case, he said, is about how the defendants conducted themselves in a crowded room of 700, some of whom became frightened and unsettled during the disruption.
The students could have jumped up and said, "Mickey Mouse, Mickey Mouse, Mickey Mouse!"— the result would have been the same, Wagner said.
"Once the rules are getting broken like that, you don't know what's going to happen. Yes, that's anarchy. I suppose that's where they want to go."
Wagner said he believed the six defense attorneys repeatedly addressed him as "the government," rather than by his name or "the prosecution," in order "to make it seem like a scary Big Brother idea."