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Tuesday, April 27, 2004
And now for my $.02 regarding the SJP trial.
Cliff’s Notes for those of you who don’t want to read the essay: The trial became highly politicalized, and unnecessarily so. Neither side presented its case very strongly; however, LaFata’s suit was stronger overall. The advantage, however, is not going to be strong enough for the JC to expel Cal-SERVE from the election. This is not to say it couldn’t have been.
To begin, let’s once again break down the charges that LaFata leveled against Cal-SERVE in this suit.
1) Violation of 188.8.131.52 of the ASUC Constitution. “Using ASUC authority, facilities, funds, or resources, including Eshleman Hall, for campaign purposes, including for long term or bulk storage of campaign materials.” The case is that Cal-SERVE’s participation in the SJP rally violated this rule.
2) Violation of 184.108.40.206 of the ASUC Constitution. “Persistently blocking any entrance or tight space, or otherwise significantly restricting the flow of vehicular or pedestrian traffic on campus.” This charge refers to the wall that was incorporated into the SJP in protest against the barrier Israel is constructing along its border with Palestine.
To begin with, the charges should have been handled in separate hearings. All that happened is that the arguments bled into each other, making the wall charge a mere afterthought, and one that, interjected randomly, could easily confuse spectators and JC members. Not to mention that several of the arguments for both charges intersect, and the second and more minor violation inevitably is made obsolete by the other case. I’ll explain why later.
In order for LaFata to make part one of this charge work, two key facts had to be established without a doubt:
1) That the rally was conducted under the authority of the ASUC
2) That Cal-SERVE actively used the rally as a campaign tool
The authority issue was made more complicated than it seems in the hearing. In SB 68, the text of the bill clearly states that “…Students for Justice in Palestine be granted ASUC sponsorship for the 2003-2004 academic year as a first-year Student Activity Group.” So, there is specific record of ASUC granting sponsorship to the SJP. The passage of this act granted SJP the ability to act with the authority of a group acknowledged and protected by the ASUC. This links the ASUC to SJP until a mutual agreement is made to end the sponsorship. Anything SJP does or doesn’t do is done partially in the name of the ASUC, whether it chooses to associate with it or not. According to this definition, SJP acted with the sponsorship and authority of the ASUC to put on its rally. If those with authority plan and actively participate in the rally, than the rally itself uses such authority. Therefore, the April 9th SJP rally was conducted under the authority of the ASUC.
This interpretation was challenged by Cal-SERVE counsel, who argued that the action was not specifically endorsed by the ASUC, and therefore was not an ASUC-sponsored event. No ASUC money went to the event, and no SJP endorsement flyers had “ASUC Sponsored” on them. This argument has some legitimacy, but it limits authority and sponsorship solely to the context of funding, an incorrect and dangerous precedent to set. In my opinion, this interpretation is weak at best. However, during the trial, Paul LaFata did not exactly drive this point home for his case, leaving some gray area and room for personal interpretation on the part of the JC.
On to the second key fact. Did Cal-SERVE actively campaign at the rally? From my personal account, yes. Cal-SERVE candidates had choreographed flag and sign activity with speakers on stage. Cal-SERVE workers handed out flyers in the crowd while speakers from the party spoke. There were several supporters with t-shirts and pins as well. It seemed to be a coordinated effort to campaign, using the rally as a springboard to do so.
LaFata’s case had evidence of Cal-SERVE campaigning at the rally; however, it lacked enough definitive proof to prove that candidates used the SJP rally for campaigning. The video evidence LaFata had showed only the three speakers from Cal-SERVE, and only Renita Cheney mentioned her party, or wore a party t-shirt. (Note: she also carried a stack of her own flyers to the podium when she spoke: proof that she was actively campaigning. No mention of this was mentioned during the hearing.) No simultaneous activity was shown, and this alone is not enough to demonstrate a party campaign effort. Some pictures were submitted as evidence that showed campaigning, but once again, not in conjunction with the rally. All of LaFata’s eyewitnesses were from IAC and were linked to miscellaneous SA campaigns, and the Cal-SERVE counsels did a sufficient job destroying most of their credibility. Therefore, the links LaFata could draw between the rally and Cal-SERVE were vague at best. The best thing he did was mention that Cal-SERVE and DAAP were the only parties that actively associated with the rally. BU and SA actively disassociated themselves with the rally, drawing a distinction between them and Cal-SERVE. But it still doesn’t completely tie Cal-SERVE to the rally, an association that must be made for the case to work.
Despite his shortcomings in taking the offense, the defensive aspects of LaFata’s case were structured so well enough that by this point, it seemed CalSERVE counsel was making up things to argue against. It challenged the definitions of the words “authority”, “sponsorship”, “campaigning”, etc. None of this bickering did much to draw reasonable doubt, but it did help contribute to the gray area that LaFata allowed to be created.
So far, it seems cut-and-dry in some respects. Cal-SERVE used the rally as a campaign tool, the rally can be considered an extension of ASUC authority because it was performed by an ASUC-sponsored group; therefore, Cal-SERVE used ASUC authority as a campaign tool. But there are, as there always are, complicating factors that were alluded to during the trial, but brought up specifically by observers of the trial.
First, it is possible that a ruling against Cal-SERVE would violate the First Amendment, in that in violated its right to peacefully assemble. Yvette Falarca dwelled on this issue in a conversation with me after the trial. While this point has some merit, I don’t believe that the violation would be relevant, solely because of the hybridized public/private status of the ASUC. As a private non-profit group (definition of union), the ASUC is free to exercise certain restrictions on election speech. I do not necessarily support this, especially since the ASUC by-laws also promote freedom of speech. However, the laws in place are set up to prevent corruption and graft, with student groups throwing support to political parties for the purposes of garnering more budgets in the next financial committee meeting. The free speech argument could have been utilized by the defense to bolster its case, yet it was hardly mentioned.
The other complicating factor would be the consciences of the justices. The defense has proved its case, but not overwhelmingly so. Is the evidence present enough to justify the removal of the party from the election? Taking into account all that I saw at the rally, yes. But using only the evidence presented by LaFata… probably not. Ultimately, that is how I see the case concluding. Cal-SERVE gets off because the evidence is substantive enough for conviction, but not enough to meet the penalty of the crime.
Now, the wall case. In order to win, LaFata needed to prove the wall completely blocked traffic in an area, and that this wall was tied to Cal-SERVE. The issue of Cal-SERVE/rally linkage has been discussed already, and is provable to at least a limited extent. As far as traffic goes, I witnessed traffic walking around the wall and staying on the same path… it served about as much practical purpose as the Great Wall of China: a hindrance, but not a complete block. But, the JC won’t let LaFata walk away from this trial without something. JC will find in favor of LaFata, Cal-SERVE will get its three censures (a slap on the wrist), LaFata will get his moral victory and ego trip, and the elections will move on with the regularity expected of an ASUC election. That is to say, none.
Next JC hearings will be Wednesday, 530, in the Senate Chambers.
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