Student Court sides with petitioners in ASI election controversy

Pictured above is Tanner Morgan, one of the justices of the student court. (Larry Valenzuela/The Collegian)

ASI president-elect Ruby V. Muñiz violated the ASI code of ethics as well as the code of conduct that governs the state of California, the student court ruled in an online conference on Thursday night. 

Because Muñiz has held a senator position in ASI for multiple years, it’s reasonable to assume that she is aware of these basic ethics and morals, and the precedent needs to be set that it’s not OK to violate the code of ethics or the code of conduct, the court said.

The court had a 4-1 majority vote siding with the petitioners in the case, Naila Estrada and Elizabeth Rocha Zuñiga v. Ruby Muñiz. Previously, the cases were separate for each candidate, but the court ruled in a unanimous vote to make a joint ruling on both cases.

The justices said that Muñiz had also contacted Maci Steinhauer, the interim co-director of ASI, and asked whether she can raffle an Amazon gift card on her Instagram page. Steinhauer said yes because there’s nothing in the election code against it, and there’s no limit on how much money she can spend.

However, the ASI elections team said that the message that Muñiz sent to students regarding the giveaway was not reviewed by the office prior to being sent. The language used and the way this raffle was carried out was not approved by ASI, according to the court.

The justices were all in agreement that the language in the ASI election code and some further ASI election and campaign bylaws need to be added and made explicitly clear to candidates.

An argument ensued between two justices, Tanner Morgan and Nick Matoian, on the issue of whether candidates should abide by the election code or all relevant ASI and CSU policies.

Matoian argued that Muñiz shouldn’t be held accountable because the candidates were only given the election code in the ASI all-candidates meeting. 

“As it stands right now, as what all candidates in fact were given, there was no provision stating exactly what she did was against the election code,” Matoian said. “..What she [Muñiz] was given was not in contradiction with what she did.”

Morgan and the other three justices disagreed with Matoian, saying Muñiz signed a contract agreeing that she would abide by all relevant policies.

“In regards to the document that was signed by all candidates, which would include Ms. Muñiz, what about that statement, which does indicate all relevant policies despite the fact that she did not, she was not physically handed the document?” said Lauryn Flores, the newly appointed vice-chief justice of the court. “She did sign that contract, agreeing that she would abide by all relevant policies.”

Estrada argued in her case that what Muñiz did was unethical because she was trying to buy votes from the students, and she never thought about those around her.

“Not all of us are privileged with these kinds of resources. Nonetheless, there are actually students that work hard and put all their effort in during these elections,” Estrada said. “There are also students that value these positions…Who actually care about making a difference, a change. Not only were the defendant’s actions unethical and disappointing, but they were also unbelievable.”

Estrada also showed a screenshot confirming that Muñiz had blocked her on Instagram and said that the defendant was willing to do whatever it took to win, even if that meant putting herself before everyone else.

Zuñiga said in her opening statement that she was unaware students needed to send Muñiz a screenshot that they voted for her in order to win the $100 gift card. 

“I was unaware of the fact students needed to do something in exchange or quid pro quo for an opportunity to be entered in the $100 raffle. A quid pro quo is defined as a favor or advantage granted or expected in return for something,” Zuñiga said. “Most anonymously, the situation can be described by definition of a bribe, meaning persuading someone to act in one’s favor, typically illegally or dishonesty by gift of money or other inducement.”

Zuñiga said she ultimately came to the conclusion that what occured with the gift card raffles was a breach of ethics, a [violation] of existing regulations and cause for convening of the student court.

Muñiz was not present for both cases and sent a statement responding to the petition that was read by the student court.

“This complaint raises a number of issues that at present are not contemplated by the ASI elections code and attempts to apply miscellaneous sections of code of conduct to a class of people — candidates for ASI office — for which the code of conduct was not drafted,” Muñiz said.

The student court also ruled in a separate case, Students for Life v. Ruby Muñiz,  that Muñiz broke the ASI code of conduct by alleging she helped create the expectant mother parking program and not retracting her statement on her bio for The Collegian and ASI.

“Bernadette [Tasy, the former president of Students for Life, current president of Fresno Pro-Life Future and creator of the expectant mother parking program] reached out to mention that if Ms. Muñiz could at the very least shout out the group and the people involved in getting this done, and Ms. Muñiz never ended up doing that, which is not valuing fairness because she took credit for something that other people worked toward and did not acknowledge them,” said Humberto Bejarano, a newly appointed justice of the court.

The five justices of the court unanimously sided with the petitioner in this case, saying that Muñiz’s dishonesty violates the ASI code of conduct which all candidates and elected officials must abide by.

Ryan Yang, the current president of Students for Life, presented the case for the court arguing for Tasy. 

Yang said Muñiz wrote on her ASI biography that she organized interstate bus trips and recreation center funding, created the veterans resource center, drafted a DACA resolution, expanded intramural sports and initiated the expectant mother parking program. 

Yang added this statement was incorrect about the expectant mother parking program since she was not involved in any part of the process, according to Bernadette Tasy. Once Tasy saw Muñiz’s bio, she confronted her about it, and Muñiz apologized, saying she would give proper credit to Tasy and Students for Life.

However, Muñiz never did so, and Yang said in a written statement from Tasy that this false information surely influenced student opinions and votes during the election.

“I ask the justices duly take into consideration the total disregard for honesty in this case, particularly in her [Muñiz’s] running for the candidacy,” Yang said. 

Muñiz was not present for this case either, but presented photos to the court showing her working for the club from 2018-2019. Yang said he could not confirm she did work during the time, but could confirm that she only attended one meeting since he has been president of the club from 2019-2020.

The court added with their vote that the language regarding campaign finance and specifically bribery needs to be added in the election code since it’s not clear. 

“I think that a recommendation should be made to the [ASI] Senate to clarify the language regarding bribery, invent language regarding bribery and money used in elections, considering it wasn’t there in the first place,” Morgan said.

Although the court has sided with the petitioner in both cases, they haven’t made a recommendation for removal of office yet, however they have stated that they will make a recommendation to change the language in the policies and the election code.

The court will not reconvene later today, and ASI will put out the official written opinion and recommendations for the cases within the next five days. 

According to Moreno-Meza, if the court were to recommend a removal from office, then there’s a recall policy in which the student body also votes to fully remove an elected official from office. 

The recall procedure states that any elected official shall be subject to recall upon presentation to the University President or designee of a recall petition signed by a percentage of the currently-enrolled students who would be eligible to vote on the elected official’s position if an election were to be held.

In order to recall an elected official serving as a senator-at-large or executive office, the petition must be signed by ten percent of the currently-enrolled students who would be eligible to vote on the elected official’s position if an election were to be held.

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