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Gag order issued in misdemeanor trial of the Irvine 11

Trial is to begin Aug. 15 for students accused of disrupting ambassador's speech.

May 14, 2011|By Lauren Williams, Los Angeles Times
  • Mohamed Abdelgany, left, Khalid Akari, Shaheen Nassar and Hakim Kebir are four of the 11 students who are to be tried in Orange County on allegations they disrupted a campus speech.
Mohamed Abdelgany, left, Khalid Akari, Shaheen Nassar and Hakim Kebir… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

An Orange County judge issued a gag order Friday 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 order applies to both the prosecution and to the defense.

Defense attorneys filed a motion on May 3 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 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 the D.A.'s office remove other information relating to the case from its website, including removal of press 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 speech on Feb. 8, 2010, 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 critics, including prominent Jewish leaders who say they support free speech but believe the students' behavior crossed a line.

Among those who were in the Santa Ana courtroom Friday was Jim Gilchrist, founder and president of the Minuteman Project. Gilchrist, whose organization places civilian patrols on 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's 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 in court May 26 to discuss whether to unseal those transcripts.

lauren.williams@latimes.com

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