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Judge Allows Case Against UC Muslim Students To Move Forward

SANTA ANA (CBS) — A Superior Court judge on Friday rejected a petition to throw out misdemeanor charges against a group of local college students accused of disrupting an Israeli ambassador's speech at UC Irvine.

Judge Peter Wilson dismissed a "demurrer motion" that would have ended the case. A demurrer motion argues that the facts of the case do not amount to a violation of the law.

The so-called "Irvine 11" then entered not guilty pleas again because their attorneys withdrew their earlier pleas April 15 so they could file the motion that was rejected by Wilson.

The eight UC Irvine and three UC Riverside students are charged with misdemeanor conspiracy to disturb a meeting and misdemeanor disturbance of a meeting.

The charge stemming from a speech given by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren on Feb. 8, 2010, at UC Irvine has largely become a battle over the legal definition of free speech.

Defense attorneys argued that the charge violates the students' free-speech rights. Prosecutors allege the
students violated the free-speech right of the speaker.

Attorney Carol Sobel argued the statute prosecutors chose for the case is too vague on what types of speech are allowed in public meetings. The judge cited state Supreme Court rulings to justify his ruling on denial of the motion.

Wilson on Friday also denied Deputy District Attorney Dan Wagner's motion to let prosecutors pursue publication of a letter to the editor sent to the Orange County Register and Daily Pilot that answers some allegations made by supporters of the students.

The judge has issued a gag order on the case and said the letter to the editor would violate that.

Wagner said his office just wanted to rebut "inflammatory statements" from supporters of the students such as the prosecution is "clearly racist."

Defense attorney Dan Stormer objected.

"This is a criminal prosecution, not a debate society," Stormer said.

Wilson said the gag order was meant to stop "the case being tried in the media," and ruled the letter to the editor would just continue the debate.

The judge also admonished both sides to avoid reciting the facts of the case repeatedly in each motion.

"I now know the story — please understand I get it," Wilson said.

Both sides will return to court June 30 to consider at least six motions, including one to dismiss charges and another to get the District Attorney's Office off the case.

The UCI defendants are Mohamad Mohy-Eldeen Abdelgany, 23; Aslam Abbasi Akhtar, 23; Joseph Tamim Haider, 23; Hakim Nasreddine Kebir, 20; Mohammad Uns Qureashi, 19; Ali Mohammad Sayeed, 23; Osama Ahmen Shabaik, 22; and Asaad Mohamedidris Traina, 19.

The UC Riverside defendants are Khalid Gahgat Akari, 19; Taher Mutaz Herzallah, 21; and Shaheen Waleed Nassar, 21.

(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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