UCI eleven files appeal more than a year after ruling

Photo Courtesy of AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
Photo Courtesy of AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

The UC Irvine 11 filed an appeal Jan. 22, months after being convicted of misdemeanor charges for disrupting an Israeli diplomat’s speech in Irvine. A California state law prohibits the willful disturbance of meetings, which led to the original charges against the 11 students. With the exception of one person, the group of Muslim students filed a 77-page appeal against the 2011 ruling, which was viewed as unconstitutional and built on the premise of a “vague” state law.

Affiliated UC Riverside students Khalid Gahgat Akari, Taher Mutaz Herzallah and Shaheen Waleed Nassar were all convicted in September 2011 along with seven other students from UC Irvine.

The convicted students were sentenced to three years of probation. The probation would be cut to just one year, however, if each of the group members completed 56 hours of community service. The one group member not found guilty during the trial was UC Irvine student Hakim Nasreddine. Nasreddine had his cased dismissed by settling to serve 40 hours of community service at the Someone Cares Soup Kitchen in Costa Mesa.

The case’s contested ruling further fueled the question of whether Oren’s right to free speech was infringed upon or if the actions of the students were protected under the First Amendment. The law prohibits citizens from disturbing lawful assemblies, but the defendants argue that the conviction against the students “makes completely lawful political speech a criminal act, and the First Amendment was never intended to allow that.”

Lisa Jaskol, another of the group’s lawyers, said that UC Irvine has rules that allow peaceful protests of speakers on the campus, claiming that the students had a right to do what they did.

The defendants also used a 1970 California statute as defense. That statute required prosecutors to prove that the group “substantially impaired the conduct of the meeting.” The defendants claim the 2011 trial failed to prove that. The lawyers also claimed that the protest of Oren’s speech never substantially shut down the meeting. Oren was actually able to finish after the group’s disruption.

Given the circumstances, the defendants felt that they were “bullied” by the court.

On the other hand, the prosecution points out that the very disruption of Ambassador Oren’s speech violates the First Amendment. Dan Wagner of the prosecution expressed that the actions of the students were “not the type of behavior or conduct that is protected by the First Amendment.”

The California Supreme Court has already ruled the prosecution’s claim of the students’ violation of the state law of disturbing meetings constitutional. The ruling left Wagner feeling confident that the appeal will not change the original conviction.

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