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Union Judiciary accepts suit against Chief of Elections

Published: May 2, 2008
Section: Front Page

Following April’s Senator-at-Large elections, the Union Judiciary accepted a suit from former Senator-at-Large Andrew Brooks ’09 against former Union Secretary and Chief of Elections Nelson Rutrick ‘09.

During an interview with The Hoot, Brooks alleged that Rutrick “was not enforcing the rules” regarding libel, slander, and campaign requirements. According to Rutrick, the rules for libel and slander were reserved for “outrageously offensive statements.”

Official Union election results announced Noam Shuster ’11 and Brook’s co-campaigner Justin Sulsky ’09 as the official winners of the April election, winning 447 votes and 399 votes respectively. However, due to an injunction submitted by Brooks and accepted by the UJ on Sunday, Shuster has yet to have been sworn into the Union. The UJ will hear the case Saturday evening, Brooks said.

“I’ve never contested an election ever before—I conceded that the elections were fair and run properly by the administration, so I was able to bow out gracefully,” Brooks said. “In this one case, I have never seen or been a part of such an unfair election where the other side was committing these numerous illegal activities. I can’t sit by and let this go by unchallenged—if we really care about justice and fairness in elections, I will submit this case to the UJ.”

He also asked the UJ to consider “disqualifying candidates Shuster and [Kaamila] Mohamed ’11 as write-ins from the primary round ballot and recognizing Justin Sulsky and Andrew Brooks as the winners of that round,” stating that the damage of the alleged libelous remarks could not be undone.

During an interview with The Hoot, Brooks detailed several instances of libel. One regarded an e-mail sent by Shuster supporter Lisa Hananiya ’09 on the Facebook group “Silence” on Apr. 15, which said, “Hey guys, the 2 ppl running for senator at large this year are the same people that i talked about in the demonstration, denying my Palestinian identity!! that’s why i decided to add Noam Shuster as write-in candidate!!! [sic].” Neither Shuster nor Hananiya responded to several e-mails asking for comment before publication.

Brooks said this e-mail referred to the Union chartering of the club “Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine,” which he suggested changing from “Palestine” to “Palestinian People.” “The word Palestine is a very controversial term—used as a euphemism for the non-existence of the state of Israel—I just wanted their club’s name to reflect their goal,” Brooks said. “There isn’t really a Palestine right now but there is a Palestinian people, if that’s the group you’re aiming to help.”

Still, he added, “[Hananiya] was writing to an audience who were upset about the Mamoon Darwish case, who were very upset because they felt they administration was targeting him because he was Palestinian…the fact that she said I didn’t recognize her Palestinian identity, it was meant to damage my reputation amongst these constituents.”

Another incident mentioned by Brooks came from the weblog, which had referred to Brooks and Sulsky as “backward reactionaries.” A post by Innermostparts contributor and Shuster campaign manager Adam Hughes ’11 over January’s Patriotic Display Resolution stated, “Compare this with Justin Sulsky and Andrew Brooks’ horrible records (I know I said I wouldn’t, but I just can’t help it!)…Authoring and being the only two senators to vote for the ridiculously partisan American flag resolution [and] doing absolutely nothing about almost every key progressive issue like endowment transparency and gender neutral housing (at least, to judge by their project reports).”

When it was discovered that Brooks had not authored the resolution, Rutrick sent Shuster, Mohamed, Hughes, and Innermostparts founder Sahar Masachi ’11 his sole written warning to their campaigns regarding libel: “There have been a large number of requests for these two write-in candidates to be disqualified for these two posts. As Chief of Elections, I have decided that the commission will neither mark Noam and Kaamila as ‘violators of a rule’ nor will I disqualify them from the race,” Rutrick wrote. “If you wish to continue using this website to comment on the election, make sure that you double check the veracity of your claims. Further false claims, considered ‘libelous’ by the elections commission, will be punished.”

The post, as of publication, remains intact, although the words “horrible” and “infamously” have been struck through with a single line, and a correction follows the original allegation now stating that only Sulsky authored the resolution.

Hughes responded to the libel allegations in a post on Innermostparts. He wrote, “the only times that the word ‘libelous’ comes up in Mr. Rutrick’s e-mail are in reference to hypothetical future statements from the campaign. If we were definitively judged to have committed libel, we were never told about it, and even if such a judgment was passed, Mr. Rutrick dealt with it in the way he felt was appropriate. I don’t see where any injunction could be made.”

The staff of Innermostparts claimed that the post contained a misunderstanding due to the lateness of the post. “[Brooks is] saying that we slandered him, he’s saying that we said he co-sponsored this resolution…I would argue that it was unclear wording, maybe,” said Massachi. “But in any case, he’s arguing that the resolution that he voted for was so despicable or detestable for us to suggest that he cosponsored it is a slander against his character. So if it is a slander against his character, why would he vote for it?” When asked if the negative connotations given by Hughes would have influenced this decision, Massachi replied, “It’s our opinion—libel is just about fact, so if we say he’s wasting the Union’s time, that’s our opinion and we’re allowed to say that.”

When asked why the statements remained undeleted and legible for the public, Massachi stated, “I think it would be unethical – I say that because I think it would be unethical for me to delete something that I wrote and pretend it never happened. I think it would be unethical in general for people to take something back and pretend it never exists… I kept it in there to use in the historical record to make sure that no one thinks I was disassembling it.”

He added that Brooks was “a sore loser,” and alleged that statements from the Brooks campaign—including an e-mail from Sara Hammerschlag ’09 to the group “Students United for Israel,” which said, “there is no doubt that [Shuster and Mohamed] would not be friendly toward Israel in their official capacities as members of the Senate”—were equally libelous.

Brooks, however, alluded to Mohamed’s voting against March’s resolution celebrating Israel’s birthday, as well as Shuster’s outspoken criticism, referring to Israel’s establishment as “the catastrophe.”

“I don’t think it is hypocritical to say that as an Israeli, she is not very supportive of her country… when she founded Students for Justice in Palestine, they were saying we want a Palestinian view to go against the Israeli view, to counteract the violence that Israelis do to Palestinians,” said Brooks. “I think people at the end of the day people will say that Andrew Brooks is friendlier towards Israel than Noam is…negative campaigning is allowed, so long as you’re telling the truth.”

Rutrick, meanwhile, defended the blog as an expression of opinion. “To say that Andrew Brooks and Justin Sulsky are ‘dinosaur reactionaries,’ it is a statement of opinion, that they are politically conservative,” he said. “[My ruling] allows candidates to say what they think about other opponents without being punished for it…I said I would be looking closely at outrageously offensive statements, like don’t vote for Andrew because he’s Jewish—it should be encouraged for people to tell the truth about opponents, so that voters know.”

Brooks and Sulsky also alleged that Shuster supporters made slanderous comments about their campaigns. “I found a witness in East Quad, she said “Oh, you’re the candidate who fixed the ballot so only you and Sulsky would be on it,” Brooks said, reiterating he had no control over the ballot. “Yeah, Noam Schuster was going around Usdan—she said that.”

He added, another student “told me that supporters of Noam Shuster said I voted against giving [the Transitional Year Program] funds for T-shirts because I hate black people…I hate black people, so that’s why I voted against giving $214 going for T-shirts, half of which went to TYP and the other half went to T-shirts for professors that taught TYP students.”

Brooks stated he voted against the proposal because no group on campus received fully subsidized T-shirts from the Student Union “except for Midnight Brunch—and that’s open for everyone.”

Rutrick, however, said that because these statements could not be proven, the Elections Commission could not accept these complaints. Sulsky, however, disagreed with this decision: “Slander is verbal, and it’s against the rules,” he said. “We didn’t walk around with tape recorders. They couldn’t have expected us to record incidents of slander that we heard from people.”

Finally, Brooks also alleged that the Shuster and Mohamed groups campaigned illegally by creating Facebook groups and posters without meeting with the Elections Commissioner. “It says in the [Union] Constitution [that] the rules apply to all Union members and all Union organizations—all Union members meaning all students in the university,” said Brooks, citing the disqualified write-in campaign of Charlie Chelnik ’10 last fall. “Even the write-ins have to follow all the rules that the candidates have to follow.”

Rutrick, however, replied “to say that someone can’t run a write-in campaign because they haven’t met with an elections commissioner yet is ridiculous—that’s why we have write-in elections.”

While accepting Brooks’ right to appeal the election, Rutrick stood by his decisions as Chief of Elections. “My commission set the standard on libel and slander higher than past commissions have—I not only allowed but encouraged candidates to speak candidly about each other: to allow them to campaign negatively, if they wished,” he said. “I think that being able to say that the other candidate is lazy, to use an example, is perfectly okay, and I think that’s something that people need to hear. An election that doesn’t allow you to say that someone is lazy is a bad election.”

When asked if this practice stemmed from his own penalization for libeling rival candidate Jordan Rothman ’09 during April’s Vice Presidential elections, Rutrick responded, “it’s partly true—I particularly noticed that elections were flawed when something I considered flawed happened to me, when I was punished for something that I wasn’t able to argue. Every candidate should know when they were doing something wrong and had the chance to undo it, and I don’t consider that to be particularly groundbreaking, but it’s just what I think is fair.”

“I think one warning over seven different counts of libel and slander isn’t enough…he does not have discretion to not take action, he only has discretion as to what to administer,” said Brooks.

Brooks added, “[Rutrick] said he personally wouldn’t give people warnings because he got a red line on his campaign when he committed libel against Jordan Rothman. The fact that that wasn’t done when seven libelous comments were made, when nothing was done was to remedy that…I’ve heard of three-strike laws, not seven-strike laws.”

Editor’s Note: Adam Hughes and Jordan Rothman are editors for The Hoot.