SBA Election Update: Original Election Outcome Remains Intact Despite SBA Split on Election’s Validity

By Sara Gold, Editor-in-Chief

The outcome of the 2018/19 SBA election, which named Edgar Lopez and Sahar Hassanzada as SBA President and Vice President, will remain unchanged — now that SBA candidates Jeff Linton and Mark Simpliciano have withdrawn their calls for a re-election stemming from allegedly unfair election practices that resulted in Linton’s disqualification the night before the election.

Linton, an original candidate for the vice president position alongside Hassanzada, was disqualified from the election because he discussed his candidacy inside a CWSL classroom and discussed his candidacy after 5 p.m. March 22, both of which were contrary to the rules in the candidate instructions packet that all SBA candidates received roughly two weeks before the election and submitted signed consent to.

The election took place as planned on March 23 — with only Hassanzada running for vice president, and Simpliciano and Lopez vying for the president position. Lopez and Hassanzada were unofficial runningmates, as were Simpliciano and Linton, prior to Linton’s disqualification. Lopez and Hassanzada both won their respective positions.

Vice President Candidate’s Appeal

After the election, Linton submitted a complaint appealing his disqualification. In his complaint, Linton first argued that the two rules he violated were unenforceable because they are not included in the SBA By-Laws, which includes Section 14.3 delineating SBA campaign regulations. Second, Linton claimed that SBA Vice President Valerie Gurrola enforced the campaign regulations discriminatorily by not also disqualifying candidates Lopez and Hassanzada, who allegedly campaigned outside of the permissible time period and affixed a promotional poster to a campus fixture in violation of the rules.

On March 27, the 2017/18 Board of Representatives, comprised of eight SBA representatives, headed by Chairman Kevin Serrano, held a hearing on the merits of Linton’s claims. The Board decided that any campaign packet rules not within the SBA By-Laws were unenforceable and that Linton should not have been disqualified because his conduct did not violate any of the by-laws. The Board also decided that Linton did not have a proper hearing before being disqualified, violating his due process rights.

Though not all of the terms within the campaign packet are also included within the by-laws, the packet had been pre-approved by Student Life for use in the election. SBA has used this packet since before Susan Finster became Assistant Dean of Student Life in 2014. Although Linton’s disqualification was the only SBA candidate disqualification from 2014 to present, the two rules he violated — regarding the campaigning time period and the ban on campaigning in classrooms — have created controversy in the past, Finster said.

“This is actually why the election packet is so specific and asks for the candidates to read and acknowledge the contents,” Dean Finster told The Commentary. “Disqualifications are rare, but when it happens, we need to have a solid process to guide the leaders to a decision.  The current process was not clear or constructive for the SBA leaders.”

Gurrola told The Commentary, “I just want the students to know that during my past three years on SBA, I’ve always had their best interests at the forefront of everything I did, and I’ve tried to handle each situation to the best of my ability. Nothing and nobody is perfect.”

President Candidate’s Appeal

After the 2017/18 Board ruled on Linton’s claims, Simpliciano, who lost the presidential race, filed a complaint. He claimed that the presidential election also was compromised because his opponent Lopez was not disqualified for the same type of rule infractions that led to Linton’s disqualification. He additionally claimed that his chances of winning the position of SBA President were “marginalized” when his unofficial runningmate Linton was wrongfully removed from the election.

The next day, five voting members of the Board decided that the issue of invalid campaign rules, combined with potential bias in enforcing those rules, created a “less than fair election process” for both the president and vice president positions. The Board also said that under the by-laws, Dean of Student Life Wendy Bashant should review the Board’s proposal and determine the appropriate remedy, such as a re-election for the president and vice president positions.

Final Outcome

After the 2018/19 SBA term officially began April 1, Joshua Raines — Serrano’s successor as Chairman of the Board — convened a meeting of the 2018/19 Board of Representatives, including all of the newly elected 2L and 3L reps. On April 2, the Board released a statement asserting its authority to “reverse and vacate” the previous Board’s opinions. The statement accused the 2017/18 Board of racing to rule on the validity of the SBA election “with only hours left in office” — ultimately leaving two key SBA positions unfilled at the start of the new term. Ultimately, the Board called for the reinstatement of Lopez and Hassandaza as SBA president and vice president for 2018/19.

Regarding Linton and Simpliciano’s allegations that their opponents violated the campaign packet rules, Lopez told The Commentary, “Neither SBA Board, 2017/18 or 2018/19, found that we violated any rules or bylaws. We only served as witnesses in their decision-making, not having any influence over the decisions made. We respect both Boards’ decisions and were ready to follow any decision either Board made.”

After the 2018/19 Board issued its opinion, Linton and Simpliciano separately told Dean Bashant that they wished to withdraw their requests for a re-election.

“My original reason for running for office was to help out the school, and I realized that continuing the appeals process would only hurt our school and students’ relationships with one another,” said Linton. “Because it became apparent after the reversal of the first Board decision that I was no longer serving my purpose of helping our school and our students, I decided to withdraw from the appeals process.”

Simpliciano told The Commentary, “Bringing forward my complaint was a difficult decision, for I truly did not mean to disrespect anyone or tear this community apart, but I hold no regrets for standing up for myself. Moving forward, I am committed to rebuild the relationships we have not only in SBA, but throughout California Western, and I hope to improve the SBA By-laws to prevent this from happening again.”

Moving Forward

Hassanzada says that improving future SBA elections will be one of her priorities as SBA Vice President.

“As far as the By-laws go, we plan on collaborating with the board of representatives (BOR), the President, other law schools, as well as students who are knowledgeable with the By-laws to revise and address the issues that came up during this election,” she told The Commentary. “Additionally, as the Vice-President, I will ensure that candidates in upcoming elections during my term are properly informed and aware of the election rules to avoid future confusion and misunderstandings . . . . It was a challenging election, but we came out stronger than when we entered . . . .  At the end of the day, we are a community and have the same intentions – to making California Western School of Law and its student experience even stronger and better than it already is!”

Lopez, who also released a letter to the student body, told The Commentary, “We want to move past this, as does everyone else involved, and work to create a great Cal Western experience for everyone.”

Dean Bashant told The Commentary, “My conversations with all of the students involved in the election this past week has pointed to the need to look closely at the law and make sure it works and reflects student will, as there were a number of flaws in the by-laws and perhaps their execution. My understanding is that Mark, Jeffrey, Edgar, and Sahar all ran on platforms to create a better and stronger CWSL community.  I know that this has been a difficult time for all of the students and administrators involved. I look forward to the rebuilding and the chance for us all to refocus on what matters:  the students, their health and well-being, and the community.”

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