ASUC Judicial Council rescinds decision on divestment bill settlement

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The ASUC Judicial Council backtracked on its previous decision to approve a settlement of charges against controversial divestment bill SB 160 on Saturday.

On Friday, the Judicial Council voted in favor of the settlement, which would have removed clauses that petitioners had said were unconstitutional. They alleged that the bill had not been approved by the appropriate ASUC committees and was not passed by the necessary two-thirds vote.

The settlement removed any clauses that required the ASUC to divest its funds from companies associated with the Israeli military. The Judicial Council’s latest decision means the parts of the bill that were removed will be restored.

The original charges will now go to trial, and the Judicial Council will rule on the validity of the charges. The trial is scheduled for Wednesday at 11 a.m. at a location to be determined.

In an email obtained by The Daily Californian, Judicial Council Chief Justice Suneeta Israni said the settlement was reversed because the negotiators did not have the authority to modify a previously passed bill. According to the email, the original decision to accept the settlement was based on the impression that 11 senators officially voted to pass the post-settlement version of the bill.  In reality, that figure came only from a straw poll taken by ASUC Attorney General Hinh Tran, the chief negotiator in the settlement, to gauge support for reaching the settlement.

The Judicial Council issued a gag order around 8 p.m. Saturday, demanding silence on the case from all parties involved. Last Monday, the Council also issued a gag order on the case surrounding alleged election law violations by External Affairs Vice President-elect Safeena Mecklai. According to a high-ranking official within the ASUC, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of disciplinary action, gag orders have traditionally only been used to protect witnesses and defendants from possibly injurious information before a decision has been made.

However, the Judicial Council’s Rules of Procedure do not clarify or limit the circumstances under which the Council can issue such an order.

Two ASUC officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the gag order, were sharply critical — even angered — at what they called the Council’s freehanded use of the gag orders, which the officials said was an overreach of the Council’s authority.

In an email sent to Israni before the gag order took effect, SQUELCH! party chair and former Daily Cal columnist Noah Ickowitz expressed his displeasure with the Judicial Council’s handling of the case as well as the decision to rescind the settlement.

“I need to express my deep sadness in both your procedure and transparency,” Ickowitz told Israni in the email. “The whirlwind of having so many verdicts in the span of 24 hours has taken a toll on me and I believe has tarnished my vision of a system I used to appreciate.”

Neither Israni nor Associate Justice Stephanie Chamberlain could be reached for comment for this story.

Like with the case surrounding the health and wellness referendum, the Judicial Council planned to decide the SB 160 case by summary judgement, in which the council can make a decision without the participation of involved parties and without hearing oral argument. According to the Rules of Procedure, the council may issue a summary judgement “in the extreme event the Council does not believe a hearing will provide any substance to the controversy brought to its attention.”

The council eventually reversed its intention to issue a summary judgement, reverting to the original plan to hold a trial.

Contact Jeremy Gordon at [email protected].