Alden Harris

Election Supervisory Board members listen to complaints against the Madison/Antonio campaign by SG law school representative Austin Carlson on March 20.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

The Student Government Judicial Court will decide on Sunday whether there was procedural error in the Election Supervisory Board’s decision to disqualify former presidential candidate Madison Gardner and running mate Antonio Guevara.

The Board disqualified Gardner and Guevara for a second time Wednesday night after finding the candidates had willingly falsified their financial documents, displayed negligence for disregarding a fine the Board gave them in February and violating the Election Code as a whole various times. Gardner and Guevara appealed the decision Thursday, claiming the Board committed five procedural errors resulting in an unjustified disqualification.

Alden Harris, Judicial Court chief justice, said Gardner and Guevara deserve to have an appeal because of the severity of the ruling.

“We ought to give them a hearing any time there’s this type of nuclear ruling that disqualifies them,” Harris said. “[Gardner] clearly raises some points that are worthy of our consideration and worthy of having a hearing.”

Harris said it is unfortunate the hearing will be held two days before the election, but said Gardner made the decision because he could not get his counsel to a meeting on Thursday. Supply chain management senior Aakash Kumar will represent Gardner before the court.

Gardner is not allowed to campaign until the Court reviews his appeal. Gardner declined to comment prior to the hearing.

Among the complaints, the former candidates claimed Board chair Eric Nimmer filed a complaint against them during the hearing after he asked them if they had believed their financial statement to be accurate. Nimmer asked if they had included their earlier February fine in the statement, which they had not. Gardner charges this as a complaint because the Board failed to inform the affected parties of the complaint beforehand.

According to the Election Code, Board members are prohibited from filing complaints, and complaints must be provided in writing.

This is the second time Gardner and Guevara have claimed Nimmer played a direct role in their disqualification. They previously filed an appeal for their first disqualification, claiming Nimmer was biased, and submitted audio evidence of conversations with Nimmer.

The Judicial Court ruled Nimmer was not biased in the first Board disqualification decision. Harris said on Feb. 26 there was no way Nimmer could have influenced the vote of nine Board members, and his comments reflected thoughts on the candidate’s behavior, not their appeal.

Gardner and Guevara also claimed since the complaint was not formally filed, it violates procedure since the Board can only take action against a candidate after a hearing on the particular violation. They also claimed the Board did not consider precedents set by previous cases and delivered an inaccurate punishment based on the actions at hand.

Nimmer said the Board did not err in their decision and the procedures taken to disqualify the candidates were by the book. He said he did not submit a complaint against the parties because all the information taken into consideration was uncovered during a hearing, where the purpose is to collect information.

“I don’t understand how I could ever set this up in any case that’s rational,” Nimmer said. “I do write [the decisions], but that’s me tailoring what we all have said as a group.”

Nimmer said even if the Court decides there is error, it still would not change Gardner and Guevara’s disqualification because they have affirmed they did commit falsification by turning in the wrong receipt for their website and negligence by failing to cite the fine on their financial documents.

View the complete appeal by Madison and Antonio, as well as the brief by Nimmer below:

Gardner-Guevara AppealNimmer Brief

Printed on Friday, March 23, 2012 as: SG candidates await Court decision regarding appeal

The temporary restraining order issued by a Travis County Court judge on the Student Government presidential elections has been extended to March 27, leaving the newly elected general assembly leaderless until at least then.

Leo Barnes, UT associate vice president for legal affairs, said the court extended the restraining order on the Madison Gardner lawsuit and that UT is still considering all of its options regarding the case. Former SG presidential candidate Madison Gardner appealed to Judge Tim Sulak on Feb. 27 to issue a temporary restraining order on the SG president and vice president elections and review the basis of his and running mate Antonio Guevara’s disqualification.

Barnes said the extension does not necessarily mean the issue will go unresolved until then. In a March 2 interview with The Daily Texan, Barnes said UT did not want to appear to have favoritism for particular students in the case. He said UT is always willing to negotiate outside of court.

“We always want to be reasonable and open to talking to people about what options there may be,” Barnes said in the interview. “On this specific thing, we would always be willing to talk to people but don’t know if we would be able to reach an agreement or not.”

Gardner, a former SG presidential candidate, filed a lawsuit against UT and UT Student Government claiming the Election Code the Election Supervisory Board and the Judicial Court used to disqualify him and Guevara was unconstitutional because it violated their first amendment rights to association.  

The Election Supervisory Board disqualified Gardner and Guevara on Feb. 22 for associating their campaign with then Student Events Center presidential candidate Carissa Kelley, who appeared in their printed ad materials, videos and on their website. According to the Election Code, association between any candidates can result in disqualification.

Alden Harris, SG Judicial Court chief justice, said he thinks any settlement by UT that would put Gardner and Guevara back on the ballot is not in the interests of SG and the University.

“We think we made the right decision [to disqualify them],” Harris said. “We think it’s important to enforce the rules of the election. Putting them back on the ballot because they sued is letting them get around the rules.”

Harris said he believes the Election Code does not violate the U.S. Constitution and that he feels Gardner and Guevara do not have a strong case. He said he believes if the University settles the case it will likely be because of the time and money it would take to litigate it.

John Lawler and Thor Lund remain the only presidential candidates on the ballot at the moment and have both said they will continue campaigning until the issue is resolved. Lawler and Lund are allowed to spend an additional $150 for every week the election goes unresolved.

Gardner said he heard about the extension from his lawyer Jason Snell Monday morning and has had no communication with UT legal or the Election Supervisory Board for the past couple of days. He said the lack of development in the case has been tough for his campaign because he and Guevara do not know when to mobilize their supporters and what they are supposed to be preparing for.

Gardner said he does not plan on campaigning until he knows for certain whether he and Guevara will be on the ballot or not.

“I think it will hurt voter turnout because things have been dragging on for so long,” he said. “I think the further you get into spring break, the harder it will to get people to vote.”

Lund said he feels the situation is becoming more about individuals and their personal gains rather than the students and their needs.

“Regardless, we will continue with what we have been doing from day one, and that includes staying positive and focusing on how we can help the student body,” Lund said.

Lawler said although he does not know Gardner, Guevara or their lawyer Snell are thinking, he feels dragging out the election negatively impacts those who have campaigned cleanly and students who do not have the time to follow every minute of the election cycle.

Update: Both parties agreed to extend the temporary restraining order and Judge Suzanne Covington, the presiding judge at the time, approved the extension.

After a hearing and deliberation over discrepancy of official and unofficial appointments by the judicial branch of Student Government, a verdict has been reached.

SG School of Law representative Austin Carlson petitioned against several unofficial positions made by SG President Natalie Butler, who defended her actions by stating that expediency sometimes calls for sudden appointments.

Butler also said she should have the right to send someone to meetings in her place.

SG chief justice Alden Harris released the final decision on Sunday, which states that the term ‘appointments’ should include all nominations or selections made by the executive branch, and “must be confirmed by a vote of the assembly, subject to several important exceptions.”

Exceptions include extra time for confirmation in cases which require expediency, allowing Butler to continue sending people to stand in for her when she can’t make meetings and allowing members of the executive branch to make appointments while not working in their capacity as student body representatives or SG representatives, Harris said.

“What [the decision] does in a nutshell, it slightly expands the universe of people who need to be confirmed but I don’t think it will have that huge of an impact,” he said. “It’ll give the committee more to reference on a few of those ad hoc committees and borderline cases.”

The decision will be in effect by the end of the month, Harris said.

The exception for expediency will allow the executive branch to better handle situations, which call for fast action, Butler said. Without it, it would become difficult to appoint students to positions in committees with short timelines, she said.

“I’m glad they made the clarifications that they did and I’m working to comply as fast as possibly,” she said. “It’s honestly what I expected. I clarified my opinions but they disagreed and that’s fine. I think it’s good that we have clarification.”

Before this, the executive branch could appoint students to positions with no applications or publicity, Carlson said.

“A lot of times, the president’s office just wants to have a student appointed,” he said. “This way it undermines them giving a position to a random student.”

Although Butler has done a better job of transparency than some past presidents, this will prevent unapproved appointments in the future, he said.

“The biggest thing I’m going for is I want SG to be as accessible as possible,” he said. “As important as this is, it’s still just another step in the direction of transparency.”