Judicial Council Chair Appointment Suspended in Partisan Vote

Illustration by Shiloh Kluding

Minh Hua
Campus Beat Reporter

Slander allegations and an incomplete Judicial Council are two of the hottest buzzwords of Associated Students government these past three weeks. In light of the critical appointment of an A.S. Judicial Council Chair, Nawar Nemeh’s petition indicting Campus United (CU) of “engaging in slander” during the 2018 A.S. Elections haunts A.S. Senate like a specter, resulting in a bifurcated Senate and an uneasy atmosphere as the fate of half the senators hangs on by a thread (but not really).

The council received Nemeh’s petition in May, where he wrote that CU candidates allegedly “engaged in practices that gave them disproportionate advantages in securing seats.”

The petition claims that CU candidates told voters that the Isla Vista Party (IVP) wanted to raise the noise ordinance to 10 p.m., campaigned during Environmental Affairs Board’s Earth Day, and promoted their campaigns on social media without a direct disclaimer, amongst many other charges.

After an extensive deep dive into our records, and after talking with many of my staff members from the festival, I can confidently say that CU did not campaign at the I.V. Earth Day Festival that took place on Earth Day of 2018,” said Alexis Beatty, an Earth Day coordinator who participated in the event in question.

“We’ve never been contacted or approached by anyone from CU about campaigning and never would have allowed them to,” continued Beatty. “No one on my staff recalls seeing anyone from CU at the park that day in any official capacity. However, hundreds of people attended the festival and it’s possible that some CU candidates attended the festival as private citizens.” 

The petition castigates A.S. Elections Board for not taking “measurable action” when confronted with these violations of legal code and calls for the Judicial Council to investigate and issue a disqualification against CU candidates. Some sources have interpreted the petition as “calling for the removal of all CU senators and executives.”

In response to the petition, Attorney General Zeina Safadi said, “Currently, there is no precedence for the removal of Senators of Executive members based on the grounds of slander.” Additionally, any violation of elections code based on slander only has future repercussions. Specifically, if an individual were to break one of the bylaws of elections code right now, then they would be banned from running in the future.

Safadi also adds, “The Judicial Council and Attorney General’s office have no discretion on what happens during elections.” Effectively, what this means is that since the allegations of CU candidates’ misconduct happened during elections, only Elections Board have jurisdiction over the matter.

However, under Article VII, Section 1, A.S. Judicial Council, “The Judicial Council shall be empowered to hear and decide any case under original jurisdiction as set forth in Article VII of the A.S. Constitution,” including “cases on alleged violations by a Candidate of the Elections By-Laws.” Furthermore, Article XVIII, Section 5, Area 7 of Elections Code states that the appeals process for parties found guilty of violating elections code shall be handled through Judicial Council.

A.S. Executive Director Marisela Marquez commented “It’s entirely up to the Judicial Council and whether or not they’ll hear the case.”

Currently, Elections Board has denied to issue a statement.

However, Judicial Council is currently unable to make a ruling on Nemeh’s petition due to its inability to meet its three member quorum. After Matthew Lanthier and Roshni Sopariwalla graduated and left their place at the council, Raymond Alonso currently resides as the council’s only member.

Consequently, A.S. President Brooke Kopel nominated Justin Nilsen, who served as solicitor general last year, as chair of Judicial Council. The legislative cogs were supposed to be churning smoothly except A.S. Senate still hasn’t confirmed Nilsen’s appointment after three weeks of discussion.

Senate was supposed to confirm Nilsen’s appointment during its first meeting of the 2018-2019 school year. However, due to Nilsen’s absence from the meeting and Senate wanting to question Nilsen directly, they decided to table Nilsen’s appointment for a week.

On-Campus Senator Yash Nagpal and Letters and Science Senator Ricardo Uribe co-authored a resolution directing Senate to follow a revised confirmation process that allows Senate to ask a series of questions to the nominee, citing “a greater degree of transparency.” Although A.S. Executive Director Marisela Márquez recalls that past Senators have questioned nominees, this was not a precedence.

Transition to Senate’s next meeting on Oct. 10, where Nilsen appeared during a public forum to answer the Senators’ inquiries, during which Nilsen’s partisanship came up as a important question.

To this Nilsen answered, “When I say nonpartisan, I mean I have never participated in anyone’s political campaign at UCSB. I don’t have close friends in elected positions.”

Nilsen was also asked how he intends to deal with Nemeh’s petition; however, Nilsen wasn’t able to fully address the issue due to the confidentiality of the Judicial Council process. After 30 minutes of this so-called interview, Nilsen was excused.

Nilsen’s appointment failed three times with a 12-11-1 vote all three times, raising concerns about Senate’s partisanship. To be appointed, the vote would need to pass with a two-thirds majority, which mean the vote has been tabled for yet another week after Senate reached a deadlock on Wednesday night.

“It’s basically just partisan politics that’s taking place right now,” said College of Engineering Senator Alex Funk, to which University-Owned Senator Anthony Hernandez added, “I could be doing a lot more for my community and constituents right now rather than discussing this.”

Hernandez mentioned the fact that there was little to no communication amongst senators outside of Senate, resulting in Senate meetings that drag on well past midnight. In an interview with The Bottom Line, Hernandez said that although there is a senator group chat, communication has been slow because some senators still aren’t on the platform.

Though Senate can choose to not approve Nilsen’s appointment, at this point, Kopel would be unable to appoint a new chairperson. According to A.S. Legal Code, the Judicial Council chairperson can only be appointed “within two school weeks of vacancy.” If Nilsen’s appointment is not approved, Judicial Council will operate without a chair for the rest of the school year.

In the end, conceding to Off-Campus Senator Christian Ornelas’s suggestion, Senate has agreed to hold off on Nilsen’s appointment until a newly created special committee reviews the remaining applicants for the Judicial Council Chair position. Ornelas cited transparency versus “internal bias” and Nemeh’s petition as motivations for this intensive process.

When asked about the petition, Nilsen explained that he has deliberately avoided reading it or rendering an opinion toward the outlined allegations.

“When you’re on Judicial Council, there’s a very formal procedure about hearing evidence and hearing testimony,” said Nilsen. “If I was to read it now, without all of the evidence, without formal procedure, then it colors the way you view a case. Given that there’s always a possibility that we can see the case, I can’t really say which way we’d decide to rule or whether we’d decide to hear it.”

Furthermore, Nilsen stated that he wouldn’t be the one deciding whether Judicial Council will decide whether to consider the case. The affirmation of only two members of the Council are needed to determine whether a case is heard, which is a minority of the five person council.

Until then, the Committee on Committees will interview the remaining Judicial Council applicants and send their recommendations to Kopel, who will then conduct her own interview and recommend four nominees to Senate. Her appointments will then require a two-thirds majority approval by Senate. As of now, Nilsen’s appointment is still fair game and has been slated to appear for review in conjunction with Kopel’s four additional nominees.

Lauren Marnel Shores contributed reporting.