Following a week of selections from a pool of nearly 400 potential jurors, opening arguments in the Irvine 11 trial formally begin Wednesday in Orange County, California.
Defense attorneys for the group of Muslim students from UC Irvine and UC Riverside who interrupted a speech by an Israeli official in February 2010 will argue against the “selective and discriminatory” nature of the Orange County Disctrict Attorney’s office’s year-long attacks and investigations that could result in up to two years in jail for each student on criminal misdemeanor charges.
I attended some of the jury selection process in the OC courthouse last week, and will again be on hand throughout the trial to update our readers on the ongoing process during the next few weeks and after the trial ends on 23 September with a final verdict.
In the courtroom last week, potential jurors were asked a series of questions about knowledge and feelings on the Israel-Palestine “conflict” and personal prejudices towards Arabs and Muslims. Several candidates blatantly responded that they harbored racism and/or antagonism towards such communities based on their fear and emotional distress following the attacks on 11 September, 2001. However, one of the defendants is a student named Osama, and a defense attorney asked the jury candidates if they could give a fair ruling to someone with that name — and they responded with a unanimous “yes.”
Nevertheless, it was clear that on the prosecution’s side there was a strong attempt to de-politicize the issue. The prosecution lawyer on the DA’s side asked similar questions to the jury candidates, but asserted that the “heart” of the case is about what happened inside the ballroom at UC Irvine — where the Israeli ambassador delivered his speech — and whether or not the students had a right to disrupt the event.
The students, angered by Israel’s wanton attacks on the hermetically-sealed and occupied Gaza Strip in the winter of 2008-09 that killed approximately 1,400 Palestinians, including several hundred children, non-violently protested Ambassador Michael Oren’s speech in which he defended Israeli policy to a public audience. They fully complied with police orders to be escorted out of the ballroom after they read their statements (written beforehand on index cards), and believed that they were well within their constitutionally-protected rights to exercise free speech doing so. The OCDA’s office believed otherwise, and has spent an inordinate amount of taxpayer time, money and legal effort to prosecute the students to the fullest extent.
Ironically, even the prosecution admitted in court last Thursday that it could be seen to an unbiased juror as an overblown effort to bring the students to a juried trial just for misdemeanor counts. He asked jury candidates if the four-week trial (after a year and a half of deep investigation) could be seen as “too much trouble,” as he put it, to return a guilty verdict.
We will see what the next few weeks will look like, and will bring you updated and exclusive coverage of the trial as it develops.
For more information, visit the Irvine 11 solidarity website at www.irvine11.com.