By Madelin Shelton and Joe Wilson —
SGA Supreme Court Chief Justice Jacquelyn Gesser has recused herself from the Finley/Brooks v. Brown/Hayden election lawsuit ahead of the Court’s anticipated decision. According to an email obtained by The Louisville Cardinal, the Court will be handing down an opinion later this week in response to a Petition to Reconsider filed by the Brown/Hayden ticket.
Liam Gallagher, a sophomore U of L student who is acting as the counsel for Brown/Hayden during the proceedings, issued a statement in response to Gesser’s decision to recuse. “We are glad that she will not be ruling on our current case, but it is sad that we had to wait until after I submitted a request to force her to recuse herself that she actually did it. She should have known to do it in the first place.”
The Petition to Reconsider asked the Court to throw out its April 8 decision that overturned the unofficial results for SGA student body president and moved the executive vice president election to a run-off.
Originally, Dorian Brown finished first in the race for student body president with 844 votes, Sydney Finley finished second with 791 votes and Afi Tagnedji finished third with 380 votes. Following a lawsuit and election hearings held by the SGA Supreme Court, it issued election violation sanctions that deducted three percent from an individual’s vote count for each alleged violation of the SGA General Election Rules. This action changed Finley’s vote count to 670 and Brown’s to 421, making Finley the presumed student body president-elect. Tagnedji’s vote total did not change.
These sanctions also resulted in a deduction of executive vice president candidate Katie Hayden’s first place finish from 856 votes to 441 votes. Third place finisher Paighton Brooks was also deducted from 460 votes to 341. Valerie Tran’s vote total remained the same at 497. This deduction technically placed Tran in the first place spot, but no candidate with the new totals achieved a 40 percent plurality, forcing the election to a run-off per the SGA General Election Rules.
The Brown/Hayden’s petition lists several claims that the Court acted inappropriately in reaching their original decision. The claims include:
- The Court gave Brown/Hayden two days to prepare for the pretrial conference and oral argument. The SGA Constitution requires 14 days notice for respondents to appear before the Court.
- The Court failed to keep a file of previous court decisions, hindering Brown/Hayden’s ability to cite relevant precedent in oral argument.
- The Court used outside evidence that was not presented by the Finley/Brooks ticket during the election hearings for five of the seven election violations sanctioned against Brown/Hayden.
- The Court violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by punishing Brown/Hayden for receiving endorsements from people representing private organizations. SGA is bound to follow the U.S. Constitution by Section 1.2 of the SGA Constitution.
Uproar relating to the Court’s original decision intensified after the Louisville Political Review, an undergraduate-run online magazine, published an article that alleged corruption among the current SGA Top 4 and the Supreme Court.
Gesser’s recusal comes after the Louisville Political Review published a separate article with screenshots of text messages sent to academic vice president candidate Julia Mattingly. The Louisville Political Review alleged that Gesser and current academic vice president Alexa Meza worked together to remove votes from candidate Kendall Tubbs in order to move the academic vice president election to a run-off.
The allegations of corruption surrounding the academic vice president run-off elections prompted a separate announcement from SGA Supreme Court Associate Justice Jacob Frakes. In an email sent to the academic vice president candidates, Frakes wrote: “Justices Bhutto, Atkins, Gupta, Lamar, and I have decided to delay this run-off for the time being. Taking into consideration the current state of the student body, we think this decision is for the best. I can assure you we are working diligently and will certainly have more information by the weeks end.”
According to Gallagher, the Brown/Hayden ticket also questioned Gesser’s involvement in the lawsuit because of her close friendship with current SGA Student Body President Ugonna Okorie, who acted as an eyewitness for Finley/Brooks.
In prior communications with The Louisville Cardinal, Gesser indicated that the chief justice serves as a non-voting member of the Court.
In addition to the Court’s forthcoming decision, a special meeting of the SGA Student Senate to address the controversy is planned for Apr. 15 at the PNC Horn Auditorium in the College of Business. The meeting is open to the entire student body.
Finley and the SGA Supreme Court did not respond to a request for comment.
File Graphic // The Louisville Cardinal