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Gag order issued in trial of UC students accused of disrupting speech by Israeli ambassador

May 13, 2011 |  9:04 pm

Irvine 11 An Orange County judge Friday issued a gag order in the misdemeanor criminal trial of 11 college students accused of disrupting a speech by the Israeli ambassador to the United States.

Superior Court Judge Peter J. Wilson said he did not want potential jurors to have preconceived ideas about the case involving the so-called Irvine 11. His gag order applies to both the prosecution and the defense.

On May 3, defense attorneys filed a motion that aimed to silence prosecutors, claiming that Orange County Deputy Dist. Atty. Dan Wagner and representatives from the district attorney’s office were tainting the jury pool with public statements.

Attorneys for the defendants objected to a protective order being placed against them, with one attorney saying their clients "are not similarly situated" with the district attorney's office, and therefore should not be subjected to the same limitations.

Attorneys for the 11 also requested that the court mandate that the district attorney's office remove other information related to the case from its website, including the removal of news releases and emails among the defendants that could be submitted to the court later as evidence. The judge denied the request, saying that there is no need to "go back and sanitize" what has already been released.

The defendants, affiliated with Muslim student groups at UC Irvine and UC Riverside, are accused of conspiring to interrupt and then disrupting a Feb. 8, 2010, speech by Ambassador Michael Oren at UC Irvine.

The trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 15. If convicted, each defendant faces up to six months in jail.

Wilson said he does not want to wait until jury selection to find to what extent jurors in the pool may have been tainted. The case has resulted in an outpouring of support from free-speech advocates, including many UC Irvine faculty members, who say the students are being wrongly prosecuted.

The defendants also have their critics, including prominent Jewish leaders who say they support free speech but believe the students' allegedly premeditated disruption crossed a line.

Among those who were in the Santa Ana courtroom Friday to listen to the proceedings was Jim Gilchrist, founder and president of the Minuteman Project. Gilchrist, whose organization uses civilians to "guard" the U.S. border, said he was interested in the case because it related to 1st Amendment free speech rights.

"We need to set ground rules," Gilchrist said, adding that he was "victimized" by people interrupting speeches he has given across the country.

"Louis Farrakhan could speak" to me, Gilchrist said. "You don’t stop people from speaking.... I want to talk to the accused and see their point of view."

Another motion discussed was whether to release the transcript of the initial grand jury, which examined whether there was enough evidence for the 11 defendants to stand trial. Both sides are scheduled to appear back in court May 26 to discuss whether or not to unseal those transcripts.


11 students arrested after disrupting Israeli ambassador's speech at UC Irvine

11 Muslim Student Union members charged with disrupting Israeli ambassador's speech at UC Irvine

'Irvine 11' plead not guilty to misdemeanor charges of disrupting an Israeli ambassador's campus speech

-- Lauren Williams in Orange County

Photo: Two of the so-called Irvine 11, Aslam Akhtar, left, and Ali Sayeed talk to attorney Reem Salahi during an arraignment hearing.

Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times