Jury in Irvine 11 trial goes to deliberation after attorneys’ closing arguments

After two days of closing arguments by the defense and prosecution attorneys, the jury tasked with reaching a verdict in the Irvine 11 trial finally broke for deliberation on Tuesday afternoon.

The courtroom heard the arguments of defense lawyers Lisa Holder, Tarek Shawky, Jacqueline Goodman and Dan Stormer before the prosecution, Dan Wagner, argued a rebuttal and closed his arguments.

The jury “stands between democracy and creeping fascism”

Holder maintained that the jury should not “divorce the content from the conduct” of the protests, which she reiterated were aimed at sending a message of dissent directly to the Israeli ambassador, Michael Oren, who was speaking on behalf of his government and its policies in Gaza. “The UC administration placed limits on [the students’] speech,” she added, “because it was the message of the content of this group — pro-Palestinian politics and perspective. The university was prohibiting this specific, unpopular, pro-Palestinian message. This is about content, not conduct.”

She implored the jury to imagine if UC Irvine students had stood up and applauded Michael Oren, and shouted “we love you Michael Oren! We love Israel!” in a pre-planned ovation to convey support for the ambassador. “Assuming that the scenario was true, do you believe that the prosecution would go after these students? Would they be found guilty of disrupting the event?” she asked. “Would those students be prohibited from speaking by the university? Or arrested for their conduct? Of course there’s a reasonable doubt about that.”

Holder repeated earlier arguments by the defense that the university administration did not provide reasonable opportunity for a protest, and therefore the law does not apply for prosecution. 

Addressing the jury, Holder said that the jurors “stand between democracy and creeping fascism. This is about content. We have to remind the government that we the people will not tolerate the prevention of free speech.”

These students “are not criminals”

Tarek Shawky added that the Irvine 11 are not criminals — rather, he said, “they are upstanding students and members of the community. They were compelled to stand up and demonstrate because of their duty, their right to speak truth to power, to express themselves — and they have the right to do so in a peaceful, nonviolent and verbal method.”

“They were going to speak truth to power because that’s what they’ve been told they could do in this country,” he said. 

On the DA’s claim that the plan to protest was “a criminal conspiracy,” Shawky stated that he would call a plan to lawfully protest “a fundamental right.”  

He added that people in the ballroom who heckled and jeered the student protesters “got preferential treatment based on the content of their support” of the ambassador’s speech. 

“There is one verdict that is supported by common sense,” he remarked, “and that is not guilty.”

“Heroes and patriots”

Jacqueline Goodman began her closing arguments stating to the jury that the Irvine 11 are “heroes and patriots … in the tradition of the finest American political activists,” and compared them to Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and Cesar Chavez. “I’m so proud of them. They’re real people with real blood. When you know that people halfway around the world were being killed — and continue to be to this day — what would you do?”

“These are people who stood up because their conscience demanded it,” she continued. “The government wants you to call them criminals. They’re using all their might to call these extraordinary young men — these heroes — criminals.”

“We know and cherish the fact that social change comes from lawful civil disobedience,” she said. 

Goodman argued that the university administration made no indication that a protest would be tolerated. “[The university] is a marketplace of ideas, but it assumes that there is equal power between ordinary citizens versus political figures. This public official occupied a better position to publicize his views using the mass media.” She added that those who disagreed with Oren would have only been able to proclaim that disagreement with direct, vocal criticism. 

“Free expression of dissent protects democracy. It is messy, but it is beautiful,” she stated. “You step up and interrupt injustice when you see it. Does it mean that that’s illegal? It means that [the students] are heroes … Are we going to let [the government] criminalize dissent?”

The jury are the “guardians of freedom”

Finally, defense attorney Stormer appealed to the jury to consider the consequences if “a failure to behave” was made a crime in the US. “Freedom of speech prevents anarchy. It gives people — and dissent — a voice. Dictatorships say ‘we won’t tolerate a disruption, you must be civil.’”

“[Prosecution attorney Dan] Wagner accused our clients of censorship [of Michael Oren]. But announcing at the start of the event that there was no mechanism for protest — that’s censorship,” he emphasized. “Using a private police force [to arrest protesters], that’s censorship.”

“Our society is premised upon the following concepts,” Stormer continued. “You may not like what I have to say, but you gotta love the fact that I have the right to say it. These students had the right to protest, the right to plan, and are not guilty of the charges filed against them.”

Wagner’s rebuttal

Prosecution attorney Dan Wagner, in a tone many audience members found angry and patronizing, scoffed at the defense’s arguments and again repeated his claim that the students “took away the free speech rights of the ambassador.” He called the defense’s assertions were from “an alternate reality” that has no evidentiary basis. 

He also attempted to de-politicize the intention of the students’ protest by claiming that their shouting was “gibberish,” and claimed that their only intent was to “make noise and shut the speaker down” — instead of acknowledging, as laid out by the defense and the students themselves in their planning email correspondences, that their protest was a purely political one meant to bring the reality of Israeli policy in Gaza into the ballroom that night. 

The jury will decide

After Wagner’s rebuttal, the judge instructed the jury to begin deliberations toward reaching a verdict for each of the two misdemeanor counts charged by the Orange County District Attorney’s office. 

Once a verdict is reached, which will be sometime within the next few days, The Electronic Intifada will attend an immediate press conference outside the Orange County Superior Courthouse and will continue to update live on twitter at @intifadaLive.



Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).