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'Irvine 11' plead not guilty in disruption

Student activists charged with misdemeanors of conspiracy to commit crime, disrupting a meeting bring supporters with them to court.

April 15, 2011|By Joseph Serna, joseph.serna@latimes.com

SANTA ANA — Orange County prosecutors didn't flinch Friday when a group of university student activists charged with disturbing an Israeli ambassador's speech last year at UC Irvine brought more than 60 supporters with them to court, a contingent the activists hope to see them through the legal process.

Instead, prosecutors filed a motion to release grand jury transcripts from their investigation and handed the media copies of court filings illustrating point by point how the university students — since dubbed "the Irvine 11" — allegedly conspired to disrupt Ambassador Michael Oren's Feb. 8, 2010, speech at UCI, then cover it up afterward.

"They're caught red-handed," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Dan Wagner outside of the courtroom. "They very intentionally tried to shut down this meeting."

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Prosecutors have charged eight former or current UCI students and three UC Riverside students with misdemeanor conspiracy to commit a crime and misdemeanor disruption of a meeting. Seven of the 11, who are in their late teens and early 20s, were in court Friday afternoon and pleaded not guilty. Attorneys pleaded not guilty on behalf of the other four.

In tow with the defendants were dozens of supporters, a smaller but still significantly sized group than last month's first court hearing who filled up the courtroom and the halls outside during the proceedings. Many of them were involved in earlier protests calling for prosecutors to stop investigating the Irvine 11, and then to drop the charges.

"This isn't about the war on Gaza; it's about democracy here," said defense attorney Jacqueline Goodman. "It was a principled protest by top students … they're fighting for all of us."

"We need more students like this," added defense attorney Dan Stormer.

The defense claims the students acted independently, but a motion from prosecutors released Friday suggests the disruption was organized by UCI's Muslim Student Union, which is on campus probation because of the incident.

An e-mail distributed to the school's MSU board with minutes from their meeting days before the protests shows they considered Oren's speaking as "sending [the] message that this is an Israeli campus again" and that they will conduct a "Chicago-style" protest to "disrupt the whole event" and "shut down with individual disruption."

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