SANTA ANA (CBS) — About 100 UC Irvine educators, including five deans, want charges dropped against 11 students who interrupted an Israeli ambassador's on-campus speech last year.
An aide said Wednesday the county's top prosecutor is only following the law and can't be "swayed by any special interest groups."
A letter urging District Attorney Tony Rackauckas to abandon the case was signed by UCI Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, Pulitzer Prize-winning writers Jack Miles and Barry Siegel, Dean of Social Ecology Valerie Jenness, Dean of Humanities Vicki Ruiz, Dean of Undergraduate Education Sharon Salinger and Executive Vice Dean of Medicine F. Allan Hubbell, among others.
"The students were wrong to prevent a speaker invited to the campus from speaking and being heard," the letter says. "But the individual students and the Muslim Student Union were disciplined for this conduct by the university, including the MSU being suspended from being a student organization for a quarter."
The district attorney's prosecution sets "a dangerous precedent for the use of the criminal law against non-violent protests on campus," the faculty members said.
They also argued that the prosecution will undo "the healing process, which has occurred over the last year."
But Rackauckas' chief of staff, Susan Kang Schroeder, said the evidence is clear that the students broke the law.
"I know certain people would want us to ignore the evidence, but this was a case submitted to us by UCI police with cooperation of UCI administration," Schroeder said. "We didn't go seeking out this prosecution."
Schroeder said the students could have protested the Feb. 8, 2010, speech by Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the United States, in any number of other ways that did not rise to the level of outright disruption.
"All the other people who protested within the law weren't arrested and aren't being charged," Schroeder said, "and it's silly for people to say it will chill free speech.
"People weren't afraid to drop the letter off at the District Attorney's Office or protest outside our office. This is just to make sure the First Amendment applies to everybody."
The students face misdemeanor charges of conspiracy to disturb a meeting and disturbance of a meeting, with arraignment scheduled for March 11.
UCI suspended the Muslim Student Union on campus for the fall quarter — about three months — in part because of the disruption of Oren's speech. The group's members were ordered to perform 100 hours of community service.
Eight of the students are from UCI and three are from UC Riverside.
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