Orange County Superior Court Judge Peter J. Wilson placed a gag order on both sides of the Irvine 11 trial at the Santa Ana Courthouse on Friday. This follows a motion filed by the defense lawyers on May 3 to prevent the office of the district attorney from publicly commenting on the case.
Lawyers for the Irvine 11 argued that legal documents made available on the DA’s website — including emails obtained by a search warrant and privileged information between lawyers and their clients — jeopardize the potential for a fair trial and could negatively influence a jury pool.
All 11 students have pleaded not guilty to two misdemeanor counts of conspiracy and disruption for protesting Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s speech at UC Irvine last year. In addition, on March 11, the defendants filed a request to remove the district attorney’s office from the case on grounds of unlawful conduct in the proceedings leading up to the conviction.
Defense attorney Lane Liroff also highlighted that press releases issued by District Attorney Tony Rackauckas comparing the Irvine 11 to “anarchists” and labeling them “anti-semetic,” unjustly criminalizing the defendants.
Deputy District Attorney Dan Wagner argued that the term “privileged” documents is very vague and that the defense needs to present any misuse of evidence in legal documents. Wagner also stated that the information placed on the OC DA’s website is part of a public document and is entitled to municipal access.
The protective order issued by Wilson applies to both the defense and prosecution, and prevents “public dissemination of any documents, exhibits, information, statements or any other matter” related to the case. It also prohibits the expression of opinion or comments regarding the “character, credibility or reputation” of both parties involved.
“The court recognizes the necessity of taking proactive steps to protect the defendants’ right to due process of law and to a fair trial,” stated Wilson in official protective order documents, in order to prevent potential jurors from being affected by “pre-trial disclosures concerning the case.”
Marya Bangee, the coordinator of the Stand With the Eleven Campaign, expressed appreciation for the judge’s ruling and considered the protective order to be a beneficial decision in this long legal battle. She also acknowledged that it will also be difficult for the Irvine 11 to run an effective media campaign in the future.
“Although I don’t completely agree with the judge’s decision, I am grateful that the OC DA‘s office is being silenced and can no longer make inflammatory comments such as equating actions of the Irvine 11 to the KKK,” said Meena Malik, a second-year undecided/undeclared student at UC Irvine. “This is very much necessary because the district attorney’s office has proven itself incapable of putting themselves in check when making statements about the Irvine 11.”
Other motions that were discussed on Friday included the decision for whether transcripts for the grand jury subpoenas and interviews that were used to gather evidence for the case, should become public. Judge Wilson ordered the transcripts to remain sealed until a further hearing on this issue, which will take place on May 26.
According to defense attorneys, the means by which the prosecution obtained evidence, including search warrants, grand jury subpoenas and internal documents titled “UCI Muslim Case,” demonstrate a clear bias and conflict of interest on behalf of the DA’s office.
Attorneys representing the Irvine 11 called for a prosecution that is “more objective, more fair and has a more reasonable basis for prosecution, to take on the case.”
In the motion to refute these allegations, the DA expressed that these complaints have no merit and do not demonstrate any possibility that the DA will treat these proceedings unfairly.
“The content of the protest is not in question here,” stated Wagner during a press conference held after the April 16 arraignment. “The protestors could have been standing up and yelling gibberish, the fact of the matter is that the disruption that they caused trampled upon other people’s First Amendment rights and that is what this prosecution is based upon,.”
A decision regarding the DA’s removal from the case will be made on June 17. The trial for the Irvine 11 is set to begin on Aug. 15. If convicted, the defendants could receive up to six months in prison.