Anatomy of a student government election
If you picked up a copy of The Rebel Yell at any time last semester, chances are you read about the ongoing drama inside CSUN, our undergraduate student government on campus.
Controversy surrounding an invalidated senate race in October and the subsequent decision by Student Body President Mark Ciavola to throw out a second election that some say violated the CSUN constitution, has dominated much of the headlines.
Over Winter Break, The Rebel Yell investigated the causes behind the events that unfolded over the course of the semester, what triggered key decisions made by CSUN officials and what it means for CSUN going forward.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Sara Farr was contacted repeatedly over the course of a month in order to get her side of the story. She has flatly refused to comment in any way regarding the allegations made against her.
Backstage, behind the booming speakers at UNLV Premier late last August, CSUN Nevada Student Affairs Director Jessica Lujan and Vice President Sara Farr were getting along just fine.
Lujan had just been approved as the NSA director, and her first major challenge was the upcoming senate elections in early October. Farr had had a summer to relax after breezing through Executive board elections in the spring to become Undergraduate Student Body Vice President alongside ticketmates Mark Ciavola and Jay Yoon, who became president and senate president, respectively.
As VP, Farr’s job was to oversee CSUN’s handful of directors, each of whom deal with an area student government focuses on: student organization funding, marketing, campus life events and student outreach and elections. These last two areas had been rolled into one directorship — Nevada Student Affairs — by the new executive board.
Lujan, who up until then had only held a liberal arts senate seat which she had gained through appointment, not election, was ultimately chosen by the executive board as the new NSA director.
With Farr’s extensive involvement in student government and Lujan’s newcomer status, Farr would have to closely supervise the NSA directorship in order to ensure the elections process could run smoothly. Both were in a position of immense responsibility, but neither Farr nor Lujan had prior experience managing people within CSUN or organizing elections.
Nonetheless, Lujan said their professional relationship at the beginning of the semester was healthy and that their friendship was “totally perfect.”
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One of the first tasks in a student government election is deciding the rules. For this, the Elections Board votes on any proposed changes to the existing rules.
As this process was underway in August, Lujan found herself disagreeing with a rule change proposed by the Elections Board, holding that any money donated by a student organization to a particular candidate should count toward that candidate’s $200 spending limit. Up until then, it had not.
At the time, the board and Lujan disagreed, but after email exchanges about the issue, the board reversed course and agreed with Lujan.
In a text message exchange afterward, Lujan and Farr disagreed over whether the chair of the board should be arguing in favor of certain decisions.
“As the chair u [sic] sometimes have to do what the board wants,” Farr stated in a text message. “They hold the power to hold up the election rules.”
Lujan responded that she felt she had “good reasoning” that the rule should not be changed and that she would “gladly explain it” to the board.
Farr wrote back “Chairs hold meetings. Members make opinions.”
“Well we need to have an adult discussion about it and if it still doesn’t pass I will concede but I think my reasoning is correct,” Lujan replied.
Looking back, Lujan said that she thought Farr may have been offended by her insistence that the board have an “adult conversation” about the issue, possibly thinking that Lujan aimed the comment at her.
Those close to both Lujan and Farr said that they felt the exchange over the elections rules was the catalyst in the gradual erosion of their relationship.
“I think Vice President Farr took that as a personal insult,” Yoon said.
As September arrived, so did the constitutionally mandated filing period for senate candidates. Lujan and Farr were scheduled to attend the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents meeting on Sept. 6–7, 2012 at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno.
Things were proceeding normally when Ciavola received a text message from Farr days before the two were set to fly to Reno, saying she would be “pulling [herself] from the situation” because Lujan had a “temper problem” that posed a threat to her safety.
Because it was Lujan’s first time attending a regents meeting, Ciavola ordered Farr to go anyway in order to guide Lujan.
“At this point, Farr was avoiding President Ciavola like the plague,” Yoon said. “But she was still on speaking terms with me.”
A meeting was called between the three executive board members in Yoon’s office.
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During the meeting, Yoon said that Ciavola brought up Farr’s recent behavior in an effort to find out what was wrong. Farr assured them everything was fine. Ciavola said he pressed Farr, saying something had to be wrong.
Farr’s response, according to Ciavola and confirmed later by Yoon, was to begin “tearing up.” Yoon said that she wouldn’t respond to Ciavola’s question and promptly left the room.
“Once [the meeting after Labor Day] happened, she was a completely different person,” Ciavola said. “I don’t think I had any contact with her after that.”
For most of the two-day trip in Reno, Lujan and Farr barely interacted. Starting with an icy exchange at their departure gate at McCarran, tensions between the two periodically exploded into brief confrontations while at Truckee Meadows. Lujan said she was approached by Farr during a break in the meeting and asked if it was “her fault” that fliers for the upcoming election had not yet been printed. Lujan claimed responsibility, to which Farr replied, according to Lujan, “I just wanted to know who to hold responsible.”
While at a Reno restaurant with UNLV officials prior to flying back to Las Vegas on the evening of Sept. 7, 2012, Lujan confronted Farr. Lujan said that Farr told her that she needed to take “leadership counseling” and that she “didn’t trust her.” When asked what she could do to repair their working relationship, Lujan said that Farr said, “What’s done is done.”
After they arrived in Las Vegas later that night, Lujan wrote an email addressed to Yoon and Ciavola detailing Farr’s actions over the past two days.
“I feel very uncomfortable around her at this point, and her lack of professionalism toward me is very hard to overcome,” Lujan concluded in the email.
Lujan noted that when she asked why Farr was treating her unprofessionally, Farr referenced their exchange earlier in August regarding the Elections Board.
According to Lujan, Farr said that she was “very concerned” that Lujan chose to disagree with the board.
THINGS FALL APART
Following the incidents in Reno and the mounting tensions between the Executive Board members, September saw the rapid breakdown of communication and professional relationships between both Farr and Lujan and Farr and the Executive Board.
Lujan was approached by Farr and Vice President Pro Tempore Omar Quassani on Sept. 14, 2012 and told that from then on, Lujan would have to go through Quassani for issues related to her position as NSA director.
Lujan said that she made it clear in the meeting that she still desired to work with Farr, but Farr refused.
Days later, on Sept. 17, 2012, Lujan sent an email to Farr asking her when she was available to meet for an upcoming one-on-one director review. Farr replied the same day, notifying Lujan that Quassani would be attending in her place, which Lujan regarded as highly irregular.
Lujan then copied Ciavola and Yoon on an email to Farr expressing outrage over the state of their working relationship and Farr’s refusing to meet with her.
“I am writing you an email to make it formally known to you that I find your behavior towards [sic] me lately to be unacceptable,” Lujan began the email. “I have every reason to believe that you are creating a work environment that is setting me up for failure.”
Lujan noted that Quassani had no constitutional authority to replace Farr as her supervisor and insisted the two remain in contact.
“I feel that it is especially necessary that you and I have one-on-one meetings being that you have accused me of letting our communication falter,” she wrote. “Ceasing all communication is not a helpful solution to this problem and will not lead us to any resolution.”
“It was getting to the point where they just weren’t speaking to each other.” OMAR QUASSANI
She did not receive a response, but she did receive a text message from Farr the morning of Sept. 19, 2012 instructing her to address Farr as “Madame Vice President Farr” from then on. Despite Lujan’s protest, Farr reiterated that Quassani would be her main point of contact.
Meanwhile, rumors were circulating within student government that Lujan was deferring to Ciavola instead of Farr with questions about CSUN procedure, and that Ciavola was using his influence over Lujan in order to skew the results of the upcoming senate elections to favor Rebels United, a campaign ticket of mostly conservative students that has appeared, with different candidates, on three CSUN ballots since 2011. The ticket was founded by Ciavola, and he supports it publicly to this day. Ciavola maintains, however, that he no longer makes any attempt to campaign on its behalf.
Unsurprisingly, the rumors decimated what had remained of Lujan and Farr’s professional relationship.
“It was getting to the point where they just weren’t speaking to each other,” Quassani said. “There’s this look that Jessica would give to Sara, and Sara would also give the same look back.”
Lujan was set to receive her routine director evaluation from Farr on Sept. 14, 2012, but she didn’t receive it until four days later, along with two other evaluations that were due in August. Lujan said that she never received another evaluation from Farr after Sept. 18, 2012.
“Vice President Farr felt that this situation with Director Lujan had caused a dramatic split in CSUN,” Yoon said. ”She probably felt that Lujan was the cause of her isolation, which she brought upon herself.”
Quassani, who worked closely with both women, said that Lujan had reciprocated Farr’s cold-shoulder.
“She didn’t really make an attempt in the first place, though,” he said. “I guess that Sara just felt that she was being belittled.”
Yoon said that at the time, he and Ciavola were aware of the glaring personnel problems between both women, but that they didn’t feel it would have a major effect on normal operations.
TIMELINE of Events
A SEA CHANGE
Nobody was ready for what came at the end of an otherwise routine senate meeting on Oct. 1, 2012.
When Farr stood during senate summations and announced that she would be officially removing Lujan from organizing the elections later that week, many in CSUN were caught by surprise.
“I hereby reassign the duties of the 2012-2013 senate elections to myself, Sara Farr, student body vice president,” she said.
Farr alleged that Lujan had violated multiple provisions in Bylaw 33, which enumerates the authority of the Elections Board and the director, in addition to Bylaw 61, which sets specific locations for voting booths each election.
According to Farr, Lujan had violated the bylaw in failing to approve an operating policy for the Elections Board.
With no explanation of specifics regarding Lujan’s failures or her actions as Lujan’s supervisor, Farr stepped away from the podium to applause from some within the senate.
Yoon said that after the meeting, a handful of those present went straight to the third floor CSUN offices to figure things out. He said that Farr did not accompany them.
He also said that while Lujan had made mistakes in the run up to the elections, Farr had made no mention of them to anyone prior to her actions that night.
“She purposefully withheld that information, so Farr knew that there were logistical issues with the elections, knew there were violations … but continued to keep these a secret,” Yoon said.
“Had she expressed the problems [sooner] … the senate could have taken up emergency measure to address her concerns. She waited until all the transactions were finished and finalized and delivered a broadside [to the senate],” he said. “So it was a very calculated move on her part to sabotage the elections.”
Ciavola and Yoon said that Farr had waited until everyone had left the CSUN offices to slip under their doors the memo containing what she would later repeat before the senate.
An emergency executive board meeting was held the next day. The Elections Board also met, passing an operating policy to send to the senate, which approved it later that day in yet another emergency meeting.
Lujan said she found this unnecessary, as she had followed procedure set out in Bylaw 33, which had been a carbon copy of the previously passed operating policy.
“When I went about forming my board,” Lujan said, “I ultimately talked to Katie Sears … and she said that she just used the bylaw.”
Student Involvement Director Katie Sears had served as elections director when Ciavola was elected to the senate in 2011, as well as when he was elected president.
“The whole problem with this entire thing is that the last handful of years in CSUN … people haven’t really paid attention to procedure and what needs to happen,” Sears said.
“I was thrown into an office that had piles of paper all over the place … and I was left to basically figure it out,” she said. “I was never told to create an operating policy and when I did ask questions, I was told to refer to the bylaw.”
And refer to the bylaw is what Lujan said she did, but due to CSUN leadership’s consistent failure to delineate proper procedure, directors were left to improvise rather than rely on time-tested processes.
By the time election day rolled around on Oct. 3, 2012, all procedure had been thrown out completely.
Farr, who had taken over the elections under dubious circumstances just days before, was now running an election in which she had no prior involvement.
Lujan said Farr had told her she wasn’t needed in supervising the elections, but Lujan decided to show up anyway.
“It was clear that they did need me because nothing was getting done,” Lujan said.
Lujan said that polling workers had started walking into the CSUN office early in the morning while Farr remained in her office. When Lujan attempted to pass out her business cards to the workers, Farr came in and took the cards from their hands.
Lujan then said to Farr, “You are so unprofessional, it is appalling to me,” before leading the poll workers to their locations with CSUN Business Manager Savannah Baltera.
Over the course of the entire day, Lujan said that issues arose out of Farr’s last-minute handling of the elections, such as polling booths not in the correct place, a lack of Rebel Yell Advisory Board ballots at locations and a lack of candidate bios for students to consult before voting.
Lujan said she informed Farr of the issues by phone, but Farr brushed her off.
Ciavola sent an email to Farr asking why booths were not out and a link to online voting had not been visible on MyUNLV. Farr explained that the method of online voting had changed and that most polling booths had been set up by 9 a.m. But Farr would later go on to testify against these facts in the official invalidation hearing.
“There’s no doubt at this point that Sara Farr took over the election to ensure its failure,” Ciavola said.
However, most of the problems with the election were worked out and the second day of elections went smoothly.
A HOUSE DIVIDED
On Oct. 5, 2012, a day after the elections ended with Rebels United winning a plurality of seats, Senate President Pro-Tempore Justin Grewal submitted a case to the CSUN Judicial Council calling for the invalidation of the election that had just taken place.
Grewal alleged that because the Elections Board had made decisions without an operating policy, including disqualifying candidates who had breached election rules prior to the start of the election, it had illegitimately affected the outcome of the race and violated the due process of the disqualified candidates.[flickr id="8463206549" thumbnail="small" overlay="true" size="large" group="" align="right"]
The Council finally decided to hear the case on Oct. 8, 2012 at 10:30 a.m., scheduling the hearing for the same day at 6:15 p.m., right at the beginning of the regularly-scheduled senate meeting.
Ciavola said he urged the Council to postpone due to the senate meeting, but was refused.
Grewal appeared at the hearing with Farr and Quassani as co-counsel, while Ciavola, Lujan and engineering senator Lou Pombo appeared as defendants.
In a bizarre twist, Lujan ended up on the opposite side of Farr, who sought to invalidate the election she had just taken over, ostensibly, in an attempt to ensure its smooth and ethical operation.
“I didn’t think there was a chance in hell of upholding the election,” Lujan said. [flickr id="8463206517" thumbnail="small" overlay="true" size="large" group="" align="right"]
Quassani said the reason he showed up was simply because he wanted to know more about what was going on. Grewal said he was fine with making Farr co-counsel, even though his case sought to invalidate an election she just took over, because he wanted people in the room who could answer the Council’s questions.
“I didn’t think there was a chance in hell of upholding the election.” JESSICA LUJAN
As the hearing was getting underway, Jessica Recarey, an assistant NSA director at the time, said she had found ballots for the engineering senator race out in the open in the CSUN directors chambers, where the votes are counted. Usually, ballots counted in CSUN elections are kept secured and safe in Baltera’s office.[flickr id="8464305178" thumbnail="small" overlay="true" size="large" group="" align="right"]
The ballots contain the NSHE number of the student voter as well as who they voted for.
Grewal said that the Council asked Lujan and Farr whether the ballots were indeed counted, to which neither could give a sure answer.
Not knowing whether the ballots were tampered with or just mistakenly left over after official ballot counting had ceased just four days earlier, the Council still placed them in evidence and used them in its final ruling.
Reading the majority opinion eventually written by Akash Bhatti — who is also Grewal’s cousin — once the Council voted to invalidate, it is evident that the Council had considerably expanded the scope of the case from what Grewal had originally filed.
Grewal’s original case submission consisted only of questions concerning the validity of Lujan’s operating policy or lack thereof, but the final verdict of the Council included a mish-mash of circumstantial evidence concerning everything from the state of MyUNLV on election day to the location of polling tables. [flickr id="8463206303" thumbnail="small" overlay="true" size="large" group="" align="right"]
Because Grewal’s original submission had included no tangible evidence of any violation but the lack of an operating policy, the Council relied exclusively on the hearsay of those present at the hearing to form its opinion of the other alleged problems.
No evidence was submitted into the record concerning anything but the operating policy issue, but Grewal said he felt the operating policy issue was significant enough to warrant an invalidation in itself.
“The fact is you need to have the operating policy when you start disqualifying people,” he said. “How can you completely make up a third document which nobody wanted or needed but you can’t produce a document which was required?”
While Lujan had not officially followed an operating policy, she had followed an exact carbon copy of the previously approved operating policy, which was eventually found by Lujan on Sears’ computer the day after the Council’s hearing. Grewal said that had she produced it at the hearing, the final ruling may have been different. [flickr id="8463206499" thumbnail="small" overlay="true" size="large" group="" align="right"]
“We were operating under the right things,” Ciavola said. “We just didn’t have a physical copy of it.”
The same portion of the CSUN Constitution that critics of the first election say makes Lujan’s lack of an operating policy cause for invalidation — namely Article 9, Section F — is what Lujan and Ciavola say makes it valid.
Grewal pointed to subsection one of the law, which states that “All services must maintain an operating policy,” but Lujan and Ciavola said subsection two, which states “All operating policies remain in effect until amended or rescinded by the Senate” means that the prior operating policy was still valid even though Lujan followed the bylaw.
The crux of the operating policy issue therefore hinges on the definition of “maintain,” with the Council ultimately ruling in favor of Grewal.
Yoon vehemently disagreed with the ruling, but seeing no alternative, he resigned himself to the reality of a second election.
“This judicial council is so inefficient. I cannot believe that any of them were allowed to serve on the bench,” Yoon said. “Their understanding of the CSUN bylaws and constitution is so minimal that it surprises me how any of them were allowed to be put on the bench in the first place.”
At present, nobody on the Judicial Council has agreed to comment on the matter.[flickr id="8463206275" thumbnail="small" overlay="true" size="large" group="" align="right"]
Grewal said he was happy with the ruling, and disagreed with those who thought the issue of the operating policy had been blown out of proportion for what amounted to a simple oversight.
“I absolutely don’t believe anything was blown out of proportion … we have been sued over these elections, we need to make sure we have crossed every ‘T’ and dotted every ‘I’.”
“I still believe that my election was legitimate,” Lujan stated in an email. “But I regret that there were things about it that allowed for people like Sara Farr and Justin Grewal to even question its validity.”
“If my board had passed an operating policy before filing opened, that would have taken a huge chunk out of Grewal’s case,” she stated.
But as the Council released its official ruling on the matter on Oct. 11, 2012, Pombo was already hard at work writing an appeal of the Council’s decision.[flickr id="8463206289" thumbnail="small" overlay="true" size="large" group="" align="right"]
The seven-page appeal, submitted to the Council on Oct. 23, 2012, went line by line through the majority opinion written by Bhatti, addressing every problem the Council found with the election.
Pombo received an email from De La Pena on Oct. 30, 2012 notifying him that the appeal would not be heard due to a lack of justices willing to hear the case.
“Numerous justices have reported that some members of CSUN have threatened and made inappropriate overtures to justices to influence their vote,” De La Pena wrote in the rejection email. “As a result, several justices have appropriately recused themselves.”
Justices had reported that Pombo had said he would file a lawsuit if the appeal wasn’t heard, but he vehemently denies this.
“I never once threatened a lawsuit against anyone,” Pombo stated in an email. “They used this lie as a means to circumvent due process. They should be disgusted with themselves.”
After the first election was invalidated, a second election looked to be the only way forward. But Ciavola, who disagreed with the entire process of the invalidation, consistently advocated revisiting the Council’s decision.
A few days after the invalidation ruling, a meeting was held between UNLV administration and legal counsel, Ciavola, Farr, Quassani, Yoon, Grewal, Lujan, Baltera, Chief Justice Kendrick De La Pena and Office of Civic Engagement and Diversity Director Randy McCrillis in the OCED conference room.
“There was a lot of bickering between Sara and Mark in that meeting,” Grewal said, “but coming out of that meeting, we received [official legal advice] to deal with the invalidation.”
Grewal said that most in attendance were in favor of holding a new election, but Ciavola said there could be no moving forward until the first election ruling was examined through an official appeal.
In an executive board meeting a week later, Yoon and Farr decided, despite Ciavola’s disagreement, that a second election was the best option. Jessica Recarey was designated election coordinator and Yoon was to be her supervisor, eliminating Farr and Lujan from the equation entirely.
Article 4 of the CSUN Constitution states that, “In the event that the general election is invalidated, the Judicial Council shall order a new general election to be held on a Wednesday and Thursday of instruction no later than one week from the Council’s decision.”
Overlooked at the time, no order was sent down by the Council to schedule a new election for a specific date. Instead, the majority opinion written by Bhatti simply stated “… the Council finds it necessary to deem the 2012 CSUN Senate Elections invalid and order new elections.”
A new senate election should have been set by the Council for Oct. 17–18, 2012, but the decision to schedule a new election was left to the CSUN Elections Board, which officially chose Nov. 28–29 at a meeting on Oct. 31.
A total of 48 days elapsed between the Council’s decision and the first day of the second elections, nearly seven times the maximum allotted time in the CSUN Constitution.
Ciavola said that despite the decision by everyone else — including UNLV administration — to move forward with a second election, he had serious concerns he felt couldn’t be ignored.
The second election came and went at the end of November without much controversy, but the final results had been flipped upside down, with Rebels United losing much of their gains in the first election to the rejuvenated political opposition of Rebels Rising, an opposing ticket made up of largely liberal students.
RETURN OF THE LAWSUIT
On the night of Dec. 12, 2012, Ciavola quietly inaugurated 12 people elected in the first election. Senators were sworn in by notary public Ramona Bowers in the CSUN offices.
News of Ciavola’s actions was made public on the night by a post by Rebels Rising candidate and Young Dem President Elias Benjelloun on the CSUN Facebook page, prompting outrage among senators who had won fairly in the second election.
An hour before a second set of senators were due to be inaugurated at 11 a.m. on Dec. 13, 2012, a group of candidates gathered on the first floor of the Student Union to discuss the situation.
Kyle Yoder, a candidate for the business school who won in the second election, said that he disagreed with Ciavola’s actions. He said that the Judicial Council should have the final say on election matters, not Ciavola.
“They do have the power to invalidate an election,” Yoder said, “and nowhere does it say Mark [has that power].”
Yoder questioned why Ciavola chose finals week to make his move, but for Ciavola, the decision was part of a two-month-long effort to revisit the circumstances surrounding the invalidated election.
“The circumstances surrounding the CSUN Senate Elections this semester have been an embarrassment to CSUN and have no doubt permanently damaged our image with you, our constituents, and disenfranchised many student candidates,” Ciavola wrote in a memo, sent to UNLV President Neal Smatresk, Vice President of Student Affairs Juanita Fain, Baltera, UNLV General Counsel Marty Howard and The Rebel Yell.
Ciavola reprised many of his prior complaints about the Council’s handling of the election invalidation in October, claiming that exchanges with Justice Robin Gonzales and De La Pena had made it clear to him that there had been a violation of the Council’s operating policy.
On Oct. 10, 2012, Ciavola said he was approached by Gonzales and told that the Council was voting to validate the election. A day later, after the Council had sought legal advice from the university, Ciavola said he received a text from Gonzales saying the Council was invalidating the election.
Ciavola also says that both justices told him on Dec. 3, 2012 that the Council had read majority and minority opinions later published as official rulings, before the official vote to invalidate had been cast.
De La Pena, who resigned in January 2013, refused to comment on what occurred that day.
Gonzales has also refused to comment as to whether this exchange took place as described by Ciavola, and whether the Council did in fact read opinions prior to taking a second official vote, but he has said that he will clear the record at upcoming impeachment hearings.
If the Council did read opinions prior to voting and if they had voted multiple times, it may have constituted a violation of their operating policy.
Ciavola also brought attention to a potential violation of due process in the second election, when four students were disqualified before the elections had even started for failing to turn in a grade verification form that was not included in the official filing packet. The decision, made at the time by Yoon and Recarey as election coordinators, was to disqualify them immediately rather than send them to the elections board for an investigation of their claims. But Anthony Alegrete, a candidate in the business college, was allowed to run despite not meeting the grade requirements to serve in the senate.
After the conclusion of the second election, cases were filed with the Judicial Council requesting an invalidation based on these alleged due process violations, but the Council refused to hear each one.
Ciavola revealed in the memo that there had been talks between UNLV Legal and CSUN about commissioning an official outside investigation to be conducted by the Office of Student Conduct, but the office wouldn’t agree to it unless a request came from higher than CSUN.
“I immediately contacted the Chancellor of the NSHE Board of Regents, Dan Klaich, and requested that he make the request of the Office of Student Conduct,” Ciavola stated in the memo. “He responded that he did not believe any of CSUN’s documents allow for that authority, and hesitated to get involved given that cases were still pending in the second election.”
“Only after exhausting all options at my disposal did I come to the determination that a decision had to be made that put CSUN on the firmest legal ground possible with regard to the seating of the 43rd CSUN Senate,” Ciavola stated. “Ultimately, I take full and sole responsibility for this decision and understand that regardless of the outcome CSUN will face the appropriate consequences for our collective actions and inactions.”
On Feb. 1, a lawsuit was filed by Farr, who resigned following inevitable impeachment charges brought against her by Pombo in late January.
‘Lawsuit’ has become a buzzword within CSUN ever since student government was sued in 2010 by the newly-elected Student Body President Robert Maxey. Maxey was disqualified from the election in a meeting that violated Nevada Open Meeting Law. University lawyers settled the the matter out of court a year later, awarding Maxey $20,000 in student money from CSUN’s budget.
Many in student government were worried about the threat of a lawsuit, but those fears have now been made reality with both sides gearing up for what could be a long legal battle.
Farr’s lawsuit alleges that Nevada Open Meeting Law had not been followed by CSUN in the process of bringing impeachment charges to the senate on Jan. 28, but more importantly, her suit includes a repudiation of Ciavola’s decision to seat the winners of the second election.
A semester-long controversy that has tarnished the reputation of student government on campus could now be in the hands of the Clark County District Court.
“I don’t think that anyone is surprised we are getting sued now,” Grewal said.
“I think that Mark really wanted to place us in a stronger legal foothold,” he said about Ciavola’s decision to override the second election. “I fear that he hasn’t done that. We really have opened this up to more liability.”
Many within CSUN have said the controversy has had a negative impact on their day-to-day duties. Not everyone in CSUN holds political power; some are regular students acting as liaisons to the campus, like Sears.
“I’m getting criticized because of things that happened in the senate election,” she said. “I see why, I understand why they feel that way, but then again no one is really doing anything about it except complaining.”
But the most striking thing about the personal drama within CSUN, is how little it actually matters to the rest of the student body.
“Here’s the problem: It’s all within CSUN,” Quassani said. “If I had spoken to anyone outside … absolutely no one knew nor did they really care.”
“Most of the student body doesn’t know what CSUN is or does, and most likely — and rightfully — ignores what they see as internal CSUN drama,” Ciavola said in an email. “I believe the most accurate way to view the entire situation is simply that: internal CSUN drama.”
Lujan, whose reputation is one of many that has been damaged by the ordeal, said that student government should be looking forward.
“CSUN needs to work on reuniting itself, internally speaking, after such a tumultuous semester,” she stated in an email. “Moving forward, the biggest lesson to be learned is that proper training and supervision is an absolute necessity.”
The political differences among the senators, which are more pronounced at present due to the influx of conservative student involvement fostered by the College Republicans — due in part to Ciavola’s past leadership with the group — has at times manifested itself in infighting.
“I mean, I know they are more conservative. We have a conservative CSUN,” Quassani said. “Things have gotten better, but they have gotten more ridiculous. Things are overly sensitive.”
“There was Team A and Team B, and that’s all there was at that point,” he said.
However the oncoming threat of legal ramifications have, at least for now, averted the personal drama to more important matters. But many within CSUN are anxious to return to normal business.
Ciavola’s promise of campus-wide Wi-Fi and permanent funding for the CSUN Preschool have been put on hold pending a court injunction requested by Farr against all CSUN senate meetings.
“Whether or not people agree, I believe I’ve done the best I could do under the circumstances,” Ciavola stated. “When faced with an impossible choice, I had to ensure that our entire organization was not in flagrant violation of our constitution. That is what I swore an oath to do.
Ciavola said that the lawsuit has overshadowed much of what he has accomplished in CSUN, such as cutting the CSUN fee.
“If people are unhappy with my decision, then they should be as unhappy as I am that I was placed in the position of having to make it in the first place,” he stated.
But until the injunction is lifted, student government is at a complete standstill.
“In terms of CSUN operating,” Grewal said, “It’s not. It’s paralyzed.”