Court upholds Muslim students' convictions

A panel of Orange County Superior Court judges recently upheld the convictions of a group of Muslim students found guilty of illegally interrupting an ambassador's speech at UC Irvine.

An attorney representing some of the so-called "Irvine 11," however, said Friday that she plans to appeal the Feb. 26 decision by judges Craig Griffin, Deborah C. Servino and Glenn R. Salter.

"We are confident that a higher court will overturn the convictions and protect this important right for every individual," Jacqueline Goodman said in a prepared statement. "Peaceful, measured student protests on a college campus should not be a crime."

Ten of the 11 students, who attended UCI and UC Riverside, were found guilty in 2011 of misdemeanor charges. Prosecutors contended that in February 2010, the group conspired to and successfully interrupted Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren's speech on American-Israeli relations.

In doing so, the group "shut down" Oren's speech — which had about 800 attendees — and impeded upon his rights, prosecutors argued.

The students were sentenced with informal probation and community service, which they have since completed.

Prior to the conviction, prosecutors dismissed charges against the 11th student, who also completed community service.

In the judges' 28-page ruling, they upheld the conviction on several grounds, including the contention that sufficient evidence existed to support the conviction, including one for conspiracy. The judges also said the court was not wrong to show video footage in court that included the university chancellor's statement of "explicit rules" governing Oren's speech.

Goodman countered that the students' protest should have been permitted in a democratic society.

"Criminalizing a peaceful protest at a political meeting on a public college campus flies in the face of the very purpose of the 1st Amendment — to protect against tyranny and promote the free exchange of ideas in a true democracy," Goodman said in a prepared statement, adding that "to say the students violated the 1st Amendment rights of the speaker — and the 1st Amendment rights of the audience to hear a speaker, [thus] creating a new right to listen — misapprehends the nature of the Bill of Rights generally and of the 1st Amendment specifically."

The Irvine 11 case garnered national attention at the time for its examining of free-speech rights and Jewish groups' support for the verdict.

In July, three Jewish organizations — the American Jewish Committee, Jewish Council for Public Affairs and Jewish National Fund — urged the appellate panel to uphold the convictions.

A portion of their amicus brief read: "Was the appellants' conduct protected by their freedom of speech under either the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution or Article I of the California Constitution? The short answer is: No.

"Under both the federal and state constitutions, the state may control conduct when that conduct interferes with the exercise of others' freedoms of speech or assembly."

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