‘Irvine 11’ Appeal Court Decision Over ‘Vague’ Law

Legal battle over the right to freedom of speech continues as UC Irvine Muslim activists challenge their sentence.

Ten members of the “Irvine 11” filed an appeal in the Orange County Superior Court early last week in hopes of repealing convictions that they contend were “unconstitutional.”

In the 77-page court document that their attorneys filed, 10 of the Irvine 11, who were convicted of misdemeanors after their disruptive behavior during Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s speech at UCI in 2010, hope to prove that the California law under which they were convicted is “unconstitutionally vague,” according to the court brief filed by their attorneys.

The eleventh student did not participate in the appeal due to the fact that charges against the student were dropped in exchange for 40 hours of community service at Someone Cares Soup Kitchen in Costa Mesa.

The controversial case involving the 11 students from UC Irvine and UC Riverside gained widespread publicity due to the issue of violations of the right to freedom of speech — which the court found that the students had violated.

“Their behavior is not the type of behavior or conduct that is protected by the First Amendment,” Dan Wagner, Assistant District Attorney who prosecuted the case, said. “The evidence showed they were intent on taking away the ambassador’s right to free speech.”

The 11 Muslim students took turns shouting pre-planned phrases in a crowded UCI Student Center ballroom during Ambassador Oren’s speech. Prosecutors said, through the premeditated nature of the actions, that the students were in violation of California Penal Code section 403 by breaking up or disturbing a lawful assembly — violating the First Amendment.

The students also faced repercussions here on campus. The UCI branch of the Muslim Student Union (MSU), some of whose members participated in the protest, were suspended for an academic quarter and placed on probation for two years after administrators uncovered emails that explicitly showed premeditated planning of disrupting Oren’s speech.

Their appeal hopes to prove that the prosecutors failed to show that the defendants “substantially impaired the conduct of the meeting,” since Oren was able to conclude his speech after the protest ended.

County prosecutors have at least a month to formally respond to the appeal.