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Irvine 11 attorney: Ambassador cut short talk to attend Lakers game

September 13, 2011 |  7:53 pm

Irvine 11 
The Israeli ambassador to the United States cut short his appearance at UC Irvine last year not because of disruptions by Muslim students but because he wanted to attend a Lakers game, a defense attorney for the students said Tuesday.

The so-called Irvine 11 are accused of interfering with Michael Oren’s right to free speech by constantly interrupting his appearance as the students took turns reading statements as the ambassador tried to speak.

Those in the audience, prosecutors said, were in turn deprived of listening and interacting with Oren.

Ultimately, prosecutors said, Oren was forced to cancel a question-and-answer session because of the disruption.

But defense attorney Lisa Holder said that Oren could have stayed for a question-and-answer session after the protesters were led away but instead opted to go to Staples Center.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Paul Wilson denied Holder’s request to show jurors a photo of Oren posing with Kobe Bryant at the game.

Of the 11 UCI and UC Riverside students originally charged in the case, 10 are standing trial. The 11th student is performing community service that will lead to the charges against him being dropped upon completion.

The case had drawn attention because of its 1st Amendment overtones and the long history of student protests at universities.

Defense attorney Jacqueline Goodman said that student protesters did not break the law but instead exercised free speech in the manner of Rosa Parks, Cesar Chavez and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the very figures they learned about in their classrooms.

“It was disruptive,” Goodman said, “but not so substantial in a controversial political speech as to constitute a crime.”

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-- Mona Shadia

Twitter: @MonaShadia

Photo: Protesters taped their mouths earlier this year to illustrate what they think is a 1st Amendment issue involving 11 Muslim students accused of disrupting a speech. Credit: Mark Boster Los Angeles Times.

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