Author of judicial council amendment strikes proposal

Senators voice concerns over closed session meeting and transparency

The second ASUCR meeting of the quarter took place on Wednesday, April 10 and began at 6:36 p.m.

During the approval of the agenda, CHASS Senator Julian Gonzalez voted to add a judicial council amendment discussion to the agenda. The amendment which was discussed at last week’s ASUCR meeting would allow the senate to, with a two-thirds majority vote, hire a legal arbitrator to make a decision that can either override or confirm the judiciary’s decision on the case in question, with true finality. The motion to add the discussion to the agenda passed 9-0-0.

The meeting then moved on to the approval of last week’s meeting minutes which prompted CHASS Senator Chelsea Davenport to point out that the minutes could not be approved because a vote was recorded incorrectly. Davenport noted that at the meeting that took place on April 3, a vote that took place regarding the Basic Needs Referendum was recorded as passing 11-0-0 but actually passed 11-1-1.

During ex-officio reports, Sarai Fuentes, a justice on the judicial council discussed an unofficial proposal in which the judicial council would have an advisor or mentor to ensure that they are doing their duty to best interpret the constitution and to ensure that the Senate has a more robust check on judicial power. This unofficial proposal, stated Fuentes, would act as a possible “liaison should senate ever feel as if judicial council is not interpreting the constitution.”

Fuentes stated that the Senate would be able to look to the advisor, who should have experience in legal studies or any sort of legal jurisdiction, to make Judicial Council rescind a decision if they feel as if the council was not interpreting the constitution correctly. Fuentes’ proposal would look to hire a full-time or part-time UCR professor who has experience in legal studies. However, Fuentes stated that the advisor chosen would be acting as a volunteer and it would not be a paid position.

During public forum, Samir Al-Alami, a third-year political science major, took to the podium to address his concerns with the transparency of ASUCR. Al-Alami stated that he would appreciate it if ASUCR’s agendas could be posted in such a way that is “actually transparent to members of the student community.” Al-Alami went on to state, “I believe the regulation is that the senate agenda has to be posted 48 hours prior to the senate meeting, however, I believe most of the students here were notified of the pending agenda items this morning.”

Al-Alami addressed the senate and stated that for the sake of transparency, it would be best if going forward the Senate could be more transparent about votes and amendment items. He believes that this would really help “foster more trust between our student government and the students.” In response, Executive Vice President Andrea Cuevas noted that Wednesdays are the only days that ASUCR is permitted to send out a mass email to students.

Justin Domecillo, a fourth-year English major also addressed the Senate during public forum. Domecillo began his statement by claiming that he had a few things he wanted to call attention to. This statement prompted laughter from a few members of the senate which Domecillo addressed by stating, “I’m sorry I did not think it was funny that having knowledge of the bylaws was a laughable matter.” Domecillo then went on to state that the Senate is required to table every Wednesday however they did not do so during winter quarter. “I really encourage you guys to be better coordinated about your schedules and enforcing this section of the bylaws.”

According to the ASUCR bylaws, Chapter 20 of the Senate Accessibility and Transparency Act states that ASUCR Wednesday tabling should be conducted every Wednesday at noon during the regular academic sessions. It also states that each senator is required to participate in tabling at least once per quarter. A minimum of two senators are supposed to staff the table from 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m., which includes setting up and putting away the table.

Domecillo also addressed the dismissal of ex-parliamentarian Jose Rodriguez. Domecillo stated, “It is unethical and it is unwise to dismiss members of the senate who are not official such as parliamentarians … it should be something that is voted on and is transparent.”

After Domecillo left the podium, an unnamed student took to the podium and stated, “It is to my understanding that Kappa Sigma is not allowed to house Riverside because of known rape parties. This is worrisome in itself that some candidates running for office this season are suspected of being involved with this organization.” The student then went on to state, “I propose that the senate ought to investigate all candidates and disqualify anyone who has been or is involved in any sort of organization that sexually assaults or plans rapes of Riverside students.”

The student then promptly left the meeting. Immediately after the statement was made, the senate did not address the student or the student’s statement and Executive Vice President Andrea Cuevas immediately stated, “We’ll be moving on to committee reports.”

During committee reports, Julian Gonzalez informed the senate that as of Monday, April 8, the author of the judicial amendment no longer wishes to have the amendment considered. He then went on to state the author is striking the amendment and that this means that the amendment will not go through. Gonzalez stated that the author apologized for not having the proper communication with judicial council about the amendment and hopes to see that future leaders of ASUCR are more transparent about making such large decisions.

In an interview with the Highlander, CHASS Senator Chelsea Davenport stated that she did not support this amendment because, “It would essentially give the executive branch the power to overrule anything that the judicial branch says that they didn’t agree with… which is not how a three branch government works.” Davenport also stated that a balance of powers is a concern for multi branch governments, and Davenport believes that the judicial branch’s power can be checked in two ways. It can first be checked, according to Davenport because justices are nominated by the president and can only preside in the judiciary if confirmed by the senate. She also believes justices can be checked because they can be removed.

During public comment, CNAS Senator Abigail Cortes took to the podium to address a judicial council meeting that occurred on Friday, April 5. Cortes stated that a list of specific senators were disclosed in a private email between a member of the judicial council and a member of the senate. In this email, Cortes stated that there were specific senators who were invited to a closed session meeting with the judicial council which Cortes stated sparked a red flag to her because when a closed session meeting occurs, “it is only appointed officials. No one from the public is allowed to be present.” Cortes then stated, “I would expect that the branch that is expected to uphold the constitution would be aware of (the rules) and would not invite elected officials into a closed session meeting when only appointed officials should be present.”

Cortes stated that when she first asked about how these specific senators were chosen to attend this meeting, she learned that these senators approached the judicial council directly by themselves. She then heard, however, that a chief justice stated that a list of the senators who were invited to the meeting was given personally to a justice. Cortes stated, “I’m bringing this situation to light because I want to ensure that this kind of secrecy does not continue. We all talk about being transparent and run on platforms about transparency, yet here I am as a senator and that is not even being practiced in our own senate.”

In response to Cortes’ statements, CHASS Senator Mehvish Ali stated, “Respectfully, it is to my understanding that as per Robert’s Rules of Order, you can invite anyone to a closed session meeting if you have a reason to,” to which Cortes replied that a reason was not given at the meeting. Ali then stated, “The reason does not have to be disclosed.” Ali then invited the newly elected Parliamentarian Stephanie Michel to review the rule in Robert’s Rules of Order but Cuevas noted that Michel was never issued a book of Robert’s Rules of Order, which Davenport voiced her concerns over.

At the end of public comment, Gonzalez also voiced his concerns over the closed session meeting and stated, “I think that it is unethical to leave out half of the elected student voice who sit on the horseshoe. We were all elected to represent the voice. This is exactly what we fight against. I think it is important to have the entire senate involved when a decision involving our highest ruling document in our association which is the constitution.”

The meeting was adjourned at 7:42 p.m.

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