Friday, September 23, 2011
After more than two days of deliberation, an Orange County jury delivered a guilty verdict against 10 students accused of disrupting a speech given last year by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren on the UC Irvine campus.
The jury found the defendants — seven students from UC Irvine and three from UC Riverside — guilty of one count each of conspiring to disrupt, and disrupting the meeting at which Oren spoke. Both charges are misdemeanors under the California penal code.
Observers reported that some in the courtroom wept after the verdict was read. Tears turned to relief when the judge declined to sentence the defendants to jail time. He instead assigned them each three years of informal probation and 56 hours of community service.
Lawyers for the defendants had argued that the students were simply exercising their right to freedom of speech. Some of the students' supporters accused the Orange County district attorney's office of singling the students out because they were Muslim.
Nevertheless, Larry Alexander, an expert in constitutional law at the University of San Diego, said the First Amendment doesn’t necessarily allow individuals to disrupt public business.
“There are many public places that are dedicated to particular functions — lecture halls, classrooms, the faculty lounge and so forth — where free speech does not protect you from disrupting the business that’s going on,” Alexander said.
The defendants' lawyers said they plan to appeal the case.