CSUN member: Justices made homophobic, sexist remarks about former officials at party
A day after a controversial ruling put Elias Benjelloun and his running-mates into student government office, CSUN judges attended a party held by the newly-inaugurated students.
This much is not disputed by CSUN justices Daniel Waqar and Henry Nikogosyan.
They acknowledge that they attended a barbecue held at Vice President Kanani Espinoza’s house on the evening of May 2. About 20 people, including CSUN members, attended the gathering.
But they won’t speak to allegations made by a CSUN member in attendance that they made offensive comments about a student that had just days before argued a case in front of their court.
The CSUN member, who would only speak on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, claimed that justices Waqar, Nikogosyan and Marclem Hernandez engaged in disparaging comments about a number of outgoing CSUN officials.
The alleged comments mentioned former CSUN members Mark Ciavola, Jessica Lujan and Jasmine Hicks, as well as former Judicial Council members Rochelle Cardy and Robin Gonzales.
According to the source, these comments included calling Ciavola, who is openly gay, a “dumb faggot.” Ciavola and Gonzales were each called “fat fuck.” The source said Cardy was called an “emotional bitch,” and Lujan and Hicks were referred to as “bitches.”
The source said that Waqar made a majority of the comments.
When asked if the claims made by the CSUN member were true, Waqar and Nikogosyan would neither confirm or deny they happened. Hernandez did not respond to requests for comment.
Nikogosyan called the allegations “stupid,” but refused to comment further.
Waqar said he didn’t feel there was a problem with him going to the event, even though it could cause some to perceive a bias in favor of a particular faction in CSUN.
“It’s close to finals,” Waqar said. “This is when people like to relax.”
The CSUN member said they had been privy to disparaging comments made between CSUN members in the past. They were offended in this case because the alleged comments came from members of the judicial council, meant to be an objective and independent court free from the influence of student government politics.
“I tried to not be a part of it because it was hurtful,” the CSUN member said. “The fact that [the justices] were there to me was a bit off.”
Gonzales said he wasn’t surprised to hear of the comments, though he defended Nikogosyan and Hernandez as being bystanders.
“Waqar is upset that he did not receive my endorsement nor was he nominated for the Chief Justice position when I left,” Gonzales said in a statement. “But this is exactly why he was not picked, because he lets his personality and his emotions get in the way of rational judgement.”
“It would have been a disaster, as you can see from his behavior, for him to be at the helm of CSUN’s judicial branch,” Gonzales stated. “It is a shame that his actions cast a bad light on all the justices being present at a gathering of CSUN officials.”
The source said Benjelloun, Espinoza and Senate President Vladislav Zhitny were present to hear the derogatory comments. Espinoza and Benjelloun denied hearing anything.
Benjelloun said that after the gathering at Espinoza’s house, he, Zhitny and Waqar went to another party.
The source said that at about 9:40 p.m. Espinoza brought out a box. Out of the box came stacks of business cards belonging to Hicks and others, which were burned in front of the group.
“It was at that time that I left because I couldn’t believe what was happening,” the source said.
Espinoza and Benjelloun denied that this occurred, but another current CSUN member who attended the party corroborated the source’s account. She too wished to remain anonymous.
“Yeah, they definitely were burning them,” she said. “Some of them were doing it by hand. Kanani did it by hand.”
She said she did not participate.
“Everyone gathered around the fire and they brought s’more stuff,” she said. “Symbolically it just seemed to be lacking class and lacking grace.”
“It was very unbecoming,” she said.
The allegations come as an elections controversy is still fresh in the minds of many in CSUN.
At midnight the day before the barbecue, Waqar and Hernandez helped swear in Benjelloun, Espinoza and Zhitny in the CSUN offices. Just hours before the swearing-in ceremony, the council had officially released their decision in an appeals case. The majority decision, written by Waqar, vindicated the three students and their claim that their due process rights had been violated in the meeting where they were disqualified from the election.
On April 29, Lujan argued on behalf of the elections board against Benjelloun’s claim in front of the council, with Waqar and Hernandez among the justices in attendance. Nikogosyan, who recused himself from the appeal but who actively argued in favor of Benjelloun, was present as a member of the public.
The ruling exonerating Benjelloun and his running-mates was the deciding event in a vicious executive board election cycle which pitted half of the student government against the other half. It became a battle of those in favor of Benjelloun, which included many senators and assistant directors, and those who favored their opponents, Rebels Reunited, headed by Jasmine Hicks, which included Ciavola, and Lujan.
Benjelloun and his Rebelution ticket won handily, but were later disqualified for violating election rules.
In the aftermath of the decision to reverse their disqualification, the council has been at the center of attention in a bitterly charged war of words. Lujan accused the council of trying to rehear the original disqualification case against their jurisdiction, while council members have said the criticism is just bitterness at seeing their friends lose.
“I think their behavior is reprehensible and exemplifies the exact sort of political grudge-holding that Benjelloun and his camp have claimed to want to put a stop to in CSUN,” Lujan said in a statement. “As for the justices who took part, I can only say that is becoming more and more evident that the deck was stacked against Rebels Reunited from the beginning.”
Cardy, a longtime member of the council, resigned the day the ruling was released, citing vehement disagreement with her fellow council members on how the appeals case should have been handled. She wrote in her official recusal that she felt there was no basis to the claim that Benjelloun’s due process rights had been violated. Rather than be the sole dissenting vote, she resigned and was described as “distraught” by those who knew her.
Judicial Council Chief Justice Alex Velto said he was also at the party, but came after the comments were made.
“I can assure you anything derogatory that may, or may not have been said would have been immediately shut down and the speaker reprimanded,” Velto said in a statement.