IRVINE.— Ten of the eleven students involved in disrupting a speech at UC Irvine were found guilty by a jury today. The students were sentenced to three years of informal probation, no jail time is to be served.
The students were convicted of two misdemeanor counts of conspiracy to disturb a meeting and disturbance of the meeting.
Before the trial begun the charges against one defendant were dismissed contingent upon the completion of 40 hours of community service at a local soup kitchen.
The students were charged in February after they stood up one by one and disrupted Ambassador Oren’s speech concerning US-Israel relations at UC Irvine.
Prosecutors said the students broke the law by interrupting the Ambassador’s speech, successfully ending the program.
Reem Salahi, lawyer for two defendants, said the students never set out to end the program entirely, they sought only to express their opinion.
The students reportedly modeled their protest after several others where students interrupted speeches, those students were not arrested.
Prosecutor Dan Wagner presented the argument that the students infringed upon both the free speech of both Michael Oren and the rights of the 700 people in attendance by interrupting the ambassador repeatedly throughout the program.
The defense countered with the argument that there were in fact no set of rules regulating the speech, so therefore the students did not break the law by interrupting the speaker.
The attorneys also argued that the charges should never have been filed since the students were cited and disciplined at UC Irvine at the time of the incident.
Several Jewish community leaders however, supported the verdict.
Shalom C. Elcott, president and chief executive of the local Jewish Federation & Family Services said the disruption, “Crossed the moral, social and intellectual line of civility and tolerance,” he continued, “While we accept the right and requirement of a public institution to provide an unfettered forum for diverse points of view, we do not, nor will we ever, support ‘hate speech.’ “
Approximately 150 people attended the verdict, nearly a dozen walked out of the room when the verdict was read.
Shakeel Syed of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California made the statement, “Absolutely unbelievable. I believe the heart of America has died today. I believe this will be used as precedent now to suppress speech and dissent throughout the country. This is the beginning of the death of democracy.”