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Ground rules went too far, free speech expert says at Irvine 11 trial

A UC Irvine professor overstepped his boundaries when he told students no disruptions were allowed during the Israeli ambassador's visit to campus last year, another professor testifies.

September 15, 2011|By Mona Shadia, Los Angeles Times
  • Muslim students accused of disrupting a UC Irvine speech by the Israeli ambassador to the United States await opening statements in their trial in Santa Ana.
Muslim students accused of disrupting a UC Irvine speech by the Israeli… (Alex Gallardo / Associated…)

A UC Irvine professor overstepped his boundaries when he told students that no disruptions were allowed during the Israeli ambassador's visit on campus last year, according to testimony given Wednesday in the so-called Irvine 11 trial in Santa Ana.

UC Irvine professor Rei Terada, an expert on the history and guidelines of free speech, told the Superior Court jury that fellow professor Mark Petracca, the event's emcee, had no authority to set stringent ground rules.

Before bringing Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren to the stage on Feb. 8, 2010, Petracca told the audience that he expected the highest civility.

"This is, after all, not a street corner; it is a university," Petracca said in a video of the event shown in court. "It is not the British Parliament; it is a university. And it is not even a joint session of Congress hearing the president of the United States. It is a university."

Terada said that in her 20-year career she had never seen someone attempt to impose such rules during a politically charged event on a university campus, especially one that had been expected to attract protests.

Orange County Deputy Dist. Atty. Dan Wagner challenged Terada, pointing out that what Petracca said echoed statements from UCI Chancellor Michael Drake. Terada, however, said neither Drake nor Petracca had the authority to set that standard. "They were saying what they wanted to happen," she testified.

The 10 defendants, seven of them UC Irvine students and three from UC Riverside, are charged with a misdemeanor for allegedly conspiring to disrupt Oren's speech and a misdemeanor for allegedly disrupting his speech. Charges against an 11th defendant were tentatively dropped pending his completion of community service.

The students face up to six months in jail if convicted.

mona.shadia@latimes.com

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