LETTER TO THE EDITOR: SGC-MMC Associate Justice responds to Student Affairs’ decision

I am writing today, as a student and Associate Justice of the SGC-MMC Supreme Court, to express my concerns regarding the decision made by Rosa Jones, Vice President of Student Affairs, to overturn the SGC-MMC Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate the 2012 SGC-MMC Presidential Elections.  While I understand and certainly appreciate her position, I am afraid it is not correct.  Thus, I respectfully but strongly disagree, and I hope that she will reconsider her position.

Before I continue, it must be made clear that this case was brought against the Elections Board and not the Farinas campaign.  Representatives of the Farinas campaign were allowed to testify as witnesses, but the case was not against them and they were not considered respondents. Therefore, it is not at all relevant that the Court did not find that the Farinas campaign committed voter fraud, as the case was not about them in the first place.

On another note, the SGC-MMC Supreme Court is not a Federal or Florida State Court.  It is governed by a specific set of documents and is not required to follow federal or state rules of civil procedure, criminal procedure, or evidence.  Attempts to impose those rules on the Court are unprecedented and unfounded.

Moreover, the appeal of the Elections Board’s decision was only one issue raised by Udhnani.  There were, in fact, more issues raised, not as appeals but as grievances against the Elections Board.  Specifically, additional newly discovered evidence of voter fraud had emerged. Thus, a new charge of voter fraud was alleged in this case.  That charge was not before us as an appeal, but a case to be heard on its merits.  We as a Court made our decision to invalidate the election based on that charge (see Section 2 for an explanation as to why the Court did not order the case remanded to the Elections Board).

The remainder of this letter concerns (1) the Court’s jurisdiction to hear this case, (2) the Court’s power to order a special election, (3) the Farinas candidates’ Dues Process rights, (4) the finding of widespread voter fraud, (5) the Farinas’ candidates’ right/standing to appeal the SGC-MMC Supreme Court’s decision to Dr. Jones’ office, and (6) the policy implications of this decision.

Section 1: Jurisdiction over This Case

The first issue I want to address concerns the SGC-MMC Supreme Court’s jurisdiction to hear this case. Dr. Jones wrote in her decision to overrule the Court that “Udhnani appealed the censure instituted by the Elections Board in response to his complaint against the Farinas and Castro campaign.  It was that single issue the Supreme Court was to consider and rule upon.”  She further suggested that the Court’s jurisdiction ended with that question.  I am afraid that is a misunderstanding of the facts and the law.

Article V Section 4 of the SGA Constitution outlines the jurisdiction of the SGC-MMC Supreme Court.  That section grants the SGC-MMC Court jurisdiction over this case.  The SGC-MMC Supreme Court has jurisdiction to hear all cases concerning violations of the SGC-MMC Constitution, the SGC-MMC Statutes, and all other applicable laws (e.g. Florida Statutes and the Florida Constitution) alleged to have been made by SGC-MMC, SGA Officials or organizational bodies.

Moreover, the SGA Constitution states clearly in Article V Section 4 that the SGC-MMC Supreme Court has the ‘power’ to “interpret any provision of constitutions, and statutes within the sovereignty of SGA.”  [Emphasis added].  Moreover that section grants the Court the power to strike laws or rules that are inconsistent with its interpretation of the law.

In this case, the Court used its power to interpret the constitution and held that it had jurisdiction over this case. That interpretation is entirely consistent with the plain meaning of the text of the SGA Constitution.  It is not correct to apply Federal or State rules of procedure to this analysis since they are not applicable to SGC-MMC Supreme Court procedures.  In this case, the Court used its power to strike laws and rules that are inconsistent with the law.  That is to say, the Court invalidated the SGC-MMC Election Commission’s decision to validate (an action by SGA officials, over which the Court has jurisdiction) the elections, because the court found that the election was run in such a way that was inconsistent with the Florida State law and the SGA’s own Constitution and Statutes.  To suggest that the Court does not have this power is to say that the Court has the right to hear cases concerning violations of the law, but does not have the power correct those violations.  Such an interpretation is inconsistent with even the most basic concepts of justice.

So the record is clear, it is plainly inaccurate to suggest this case and all the issues raised in it were not properly before the Court.  And moreover, if the point is to comply with the rules and the SGA Constitution, only the Court can make such a determination as to whether the case was properly before it.  The Court decided that the case was properly before it and found that the elections were not conducted consistent with the law.

The question then becomes whether the Court had the power to order a special election.

Section 2: Power to Order a Special Election

This section cannot be read in a vacuum.  It is absolutely necessary to know that prior to this case the Elections Commissioner, Alessa Torres, had been censured by the Court after being found guilty of several charges of acting in a partisan manner to influence the election (a direct violation of SGC-MMC Statutes).  Moreover, as a result of a separate charge against Ms. Torres that was heard by the Court on the same day as the Elections Case, Ms. Torres was found guilty of another act of partisan behavior and was removed from her position as Elections Commissioner by the Court.  It should go without saying, but the Court was completely convinced that the Elections Board was not the appropriate place for the Elections case to be heard, as the Elections Board had been compromised all along.  With that said, I will now explain the Court’s decision to order a “special election.”

The question of whether the Court has the power to order a special election is sort of a red herring.  Dr .Jones was right to point out that no such power is expressly stated in our governing documents.  That said, however, many of the actions taken by all agents of SGA are not expressly stated in the governing documents.  That, of course, does not mean they do not have the power to act, as many powers are implied.

She went further, though, and said “[t]he range of permitted sanctions for violations to the Elections Code varies from private censure to disqualification of the candidate and/or party but does not include mandating a Special Election.” But the section she cited only concerns individuals charged with violating the Elections Code.  For example, as stated above, the Elections Commissioner was removed for committing violations of the Elections Code.  But this case was not about the Elections Commissioner in her personal capacity.  Rather, it dealt with correcting the wrongful act of validating the elections that resulted from the unlawful act of an SGA body.  In that sense, what the Court did here was no different than what it does when it strikes a statute for being inconsistent with the law.

It is on that basis that the Court ordered a special election.  The Court interpreted the statutes to allow it to provide an equitable solution to this problem, nothing more.  That said, however, the special election is completely beside the point.  The court ruled that the election results be vacated because the results of election, which were wrongfully validated by the elections board, were tainted by illegal voter fraud.  The term ‘special election’ was perhaps not the best choice of words.  But even if no such power to order a ‘special election’ exists, that does not mean the Court did not have the power to invalidate the unlawful elections.  Rather it only means that someone else must determine what kind of election to hold.

In any case, the election results would still be invalid as a result of the Court’s ruling that they be vacated because the Elections Board unlawfully validated them.

To summarize this section, the Court only insisted that the law be followed when selecting the next President and Vice-President.  That is why the decision clearly stated that the ‘special election’ must be held in accordance with all applicable laws.  The Court, of course, has the power to tell people to follow the law, just as it had the power to invalidate the election.

Section 3: Due Process

It is important to reiterate here that this case was not brought against the Farinas Campaign candidates. Thus, their Due Process rights were not implicated.  To be very clear, this case was brought against the Elections Commission, not them.

In Dr. Jones’ decision, though, she suggested that the Court might have violated the Farinas candidates’ Due Process rights. That did not happen.  Due Process at its most basic level only requires adequate notice and a reasonable opportunity to be heard.  The SGA Constitution, however, is more kind than just that.  In fact, the SGA Constitution grants robust Due Process rights.  Those rights can be found in Article VI of the SGA Constitution.

Even if the candidates’ Due Process rights were implicated by this case, although the Court maintains they were not, the Court afforded the candidates all of their Due Process rights anyway.  There was a public hearing, they were given a reasonable date for the hearing, they were informed of the hearing, they attended the hearing, they presented their evidence at the hearing, everyone was informed they could refrain from providing self incriminating evidence, all of their witnesses were allowed to speak, and they were allowed to present any evidence they wanted.  Since the SGA Constitution expressly defines what Due Process rights are afforded, no additional Due Process rights must be given. To suggest otherwise is to usurp the Court’s power to interpret the Constitution.  And even if Dr. Jones’ office was to amend the constitution to expand those Due Process rights, any such change would only affect future cases – not this one.  To do otherwise would be to create an ex post facto rule, inconsistent with peoples’ common understanding of justice.

As a final point on Due Process; if it is true that the Farinas Candidates’ Due Process rights were in fact implicated in this case, that necessarily means that the Due Process rights of the Patel and Udhnani candidates were also implicated.  The Patel and Udhnani candidates were not made aware of the appeal to the Elections case heard by Dr. Jones’ office. They were not reasonably informed of the appeal.  There was no public hearing.  They were not permitted to attend the hearing.  They were not allowed to present evidence on their behalf at the appeal, nor were they allowed to present witnesses.

I maintain that nobody’s Due Process rights were implicated or violated.  If Due Process rights were implicated, however, then the Due Process rights of the Patel and Udhnani candidates were implicated and violated when Dr. Jones’ office heard the appeal to this case because of the reasons stated above.

Section 4: Finding of Widespread Voter Fraud

For this section it suffices to say that several witnesses admitted in open court and additional evidence was submitted to support a finding of widespread voter fraud.  Voter fraud occurs when a person “… commits or attempts to commit any fraud in connection with voting, votes a fraudulent ballot, or votes more than once in an election.” Thus, the testimony of the witnesses who admitted in open court to accessing other students’ ballots and voting for the Farinas campaign, as well as the other physical evidence of voter fraud shows that the fraud was pervasive enough to change the results of the election.

Since Dr. Jones’ office treated this case as an appeal, it is unusual that this finding was questioned, since appellate review should only concern questions of law, not questions of fact. With that said, I now want to discuss the appeal itself.

Section 5: Farinas Candidates had no Right to Appeal the ruling in this case because they were not parties to the case, and Dr. Jones’ office is not the proper place to appeal decisions made by the SGC-MMC Supreme Court

The Farinas candidates had no right to appeal this case because they were not parties to it. This case was brought against the Elections Commission, not the Farinas candidates.  So their appeal appears to be invalid on its face.

Moreover, it is unclear how Dr. Jones’ office has jurisdiction over this case to hear any appeal from an SGC-MMC Supreme Court decision that only relates to internal SGA Governance.  After reviewing the SGA governing documents and applicable Florida Statutes, I am fairly confident that this appeal was not properly brought before Dr. Jones’ office.  Moreover, I am sure that the SGC-MMC Supreme Court does not interpret any provisions of the SGA governing documents to authorize such an appeal.  As such, I respectfully request that someone point me to the rule that authorizes this appeal.

Before I move from this section, I want to address a few more issues concerning the appeal.  As I stated above, I am confident that Dr. Jones’ office did not have proper jurisdiction to hear this appeal.  If I am wrong, however, that necessarily means that all of the Court’s decisions could be appealed by her office. If that is the case, it seems obvious that this case will set a precedent for such appeals.  As such, it would not surprise me at all if from now on all the Court’s decisions are appealed to her office.  That, of course, seems to fly in the face of student self governance.

Section 6: Policy Implications and Student Self Governance.

The last point I want to make deals with the apparent policy implications of her decision and the affect it will have on SGA.  By overruling this decision, it appears to me that the administration has no confidence in the SGC-MMC Supreme Court.

But let this point be clear: We have worked hard to be fair and impartial.  Moreover, we see ourselves as a truly non-political branch.  When we were confronted with this issue, we did not let personal relationships or emotions distract us.  We simply called it like we saw it.  The fact of the matter is that nearly 100 students sat in the courtroom at the FIU College of Law and watched as witness after witness stood before us and admitted that they sent several electronic messages to other students asking for access to those students’ FIU accounts so they could vote en mass for the Farinas ticket.  Not only that, other evidence was submitted to further the point that fraud occurred.

The election was decided by 71 votes.

We had no choice but to invalidate this election.

As for the claim that this case should have been first heard by the elections commission, please remember that the Elections Commissioner was sanctioned with a censure and then removed after being found guilty of several counts of acting in partisan manner to influence the elections and the Elections Commission as a whole was reprimanded for acting in a partisan manner by the court in the latest Torres opinion.

I am fearful that the student body will resent the decision validate this election.  I am afraid that they will see, like I do, that from start to finish this election was corrupted by SGA officials and campaigners alike.

The results of this election are tainted, and, should they stand, they will serve as a dark reminder that corruption pays, and that for the sake of expediency and despite the most clear and unquestionable evidence, people will willfully overlook anything, even outright fraud, if it means they can avoid doing the hard work it takes to make things right.

The Court tried to make it right.  The Court took seriously its role in governing SGA.  We expect that the other branches take their roles in SGA just as seriously and can handle the hard work it will take to run a new election.  That is part of governing.  That is what we as leaders in SGA are supposed to do.

As such, I respectfully request that Dr. Jones reverse her decision to validate the election and defer to the SGA so that it can govern and police its own.

Respectfully Submitted,

Mohamed Al-Darsani
Associate Justice, SGC-MMC Supreme Court

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