Irvine 11, 19 Update

JASON DAVIS/New University

The arraignment of the eight UC Irvine and three UC Riverside students dubbed the Irvine 11 was delayed until April 15 at a hearing on Friday, March 11. The 19 students known as the Irvine 19 arrested during the Nov. 25, 2009 protest and sit-in were scheduled to be arraigned on Monday, March 7. That hearing has since been delayed until May 6.

The Irvine 11 case has become a focal point of a debate over free speech rights, with about 100 supporters showing up to the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana for the Friday hearing, many with tape covering their mouths. The 11 students face charges for conspiracy to commit a crime and for disrupting a meeting.

The Orange County district attorney’s choice to file charges has been met both with harsh criticism, mostly citing a perceived affront to free speech rights and overly harsh charges brought upon students, and with support citing the need to discipline overly rowdy students. The OCDA maintains that they have no choice but to file charges, citing clear evidence in writing and on video.

Supporters of the Irvine 11 accuse the OCDA of targeting the weak and vulnerable, and emphasize the dangerous precedent of criminalizing dissent that would be set by this case, should the students be found guilty and the charges levied. If convicted, the Irvine 11 could face six months in jail or probation.

A similar situation is brewing between the OCDA and the Irvine 19, who were arrested in connection with the protest and sit-in at UCI on Nov. 25, 2009 surrounding the breakdown of talks between a janitorial union and UCI, the 32 percent fee increase and the racist events at UC San Diego that rocked the campus and the UC system that year.

Though their arraignment has been postponed until May 6, the DA is subpoenaing the students’ academic records and their UCI email accounts, including communications between students and their academic advisors and professors, TAs and their students.

“This is a huge infringements on rights beyond reasonable means,” said John Bruning, a former UCI Sociology graduate student arrested in connection with the protest. “Activists don’t use their UCI email addresses [to communicate about events]. This is privileged information. This infringes upon my rights and on the rights of students [I taught]. This will give universal access. I know our lawyers are working to fight the subpoena. It is an infringement on the entire student body.”

Supporters of the Irvine 19 are pressing the UCI administration, including Chancellor Drake, to ask the prosecution to drop the charges, and the 19 students have pled not guilty. The OCDA statement from Dec. 9, 2009 reads:

“OCDA FILES CHARGES AGAINST 19 STUDENTS AND SYMPATHIZERS FOR DISORDERLY CONDUCT OUTSIDE CHANCELLOR’S OFFICE AT UCI.
SANTA ANA – The Orange County District Attorney’s Office (OCDA) filed charges today against 19 students and sympathizers for being disorderly outside the Chancellor’s Office and refusing to leave the University of California, Irvine (UCI) campus … At approximately 9:30 a.m. on Feb. 24, 2010, 17 defendants except Bruning and Lagergren are accused of trespassing onto the UCI campus, entering the fifth floor of Aldrich Hall, and gathering outside the Office of the Chancellor.”

The statement also accuses the protesters of disorderly conduct involving chanting, yelling, blowing whistles, pounding on the walls and floor and of disrupting approximately 400 UCI employees who were working in Aldrich Hall.

“For this case, there’s a very clear message that they will prosecute protests,” Bruning said. “There is a clear intent of not letting students protest. I think the most important thing is to keep protesting. The best way to fight our charges is to keep protesting. At a certain point, the administration will have to accept it … that students are pissed off.”