Lawyer: Muslim students to push appeal in UC Irvine free speech case

11 Mar

A lawyer for 10 Muslims found guilty in 2011 of disturbing an Israeli diplomat’s speech when they were students at UC Irvine said they will continue to appeal their misdemeanor convictions.

The students were found guilty of disturbing a public meeting and conspiracy during a 2010 talk at the university by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren. Charges against one other student were dropped in exchange for 40 hours of community service.

Jacqueline Goodman, one of a team of lawyers representing the students, said they would seek a hearing in the Fourth District Court of Appeal now that a panel of local judges upheld the trial verdict last month.

“Criminalizing a peaceful protest at a political meeting on a public college campus flies in the face of the very purpose of the First Amendment,” she said.

Prosecutors had argued during the trial that the students thwarted the free-speech rights of the ambassador, an interpretation of the law that Goodman said was incorrect. The First Amendment only protects citizens against government limitation of free speech, she said.

“That causes me to feel confident that a higher court will reverse that ruling,” she said.

In the recent appellate decision, the judges pointed to previous case law that held that speech that infringes on others’ rights is not protected by the First Amendment.

“In this case, that right of free speech extended not only to Ambassador Oren, but to several hundred persons who had assembled to hear this presentation,” the decision said.

Each of the students was sentenced to three years probation, which would be cut to a year if each completed 56 hours of community service. A judge also ordered each to pay $270 in fines.

The ramifications of the case go farther than the individual students’ punishments, Goodman said. She feared a “chilling effect” and said she had already heard from other students who feared their political protests might result in arrest.

“Peaceful, measured student protests on a college campus should not be a crime,” she said.


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