Associated Students Judicial Council began proceedings for Katie Mukai v. Yasamin Salari on Wednesday night, a case revolving around Mukai’s petition to remove On-Campus Senator Yasamin Salari from her position due to violations of legal code and her ineligibility to serve as an on-campus senator.
Former A.S. Attorney General Ali Suebert represented Mukai in the case against Salari, arguing that Senator Salari violated legal code by living off-campus and that she is unable “to serve and adequately represent her constituents,” according to the petition.
“We feel that it is unfair that someone is able to run for a position and campaign as an on-campus senator, getting votes from on-campus students, when other people are running for the same election under the same legal code expecting to have the same laws that they were held to,” Suebert said.
Former Off-Campus Senator Alexandra Gessesse, representing Salari, defended Salari on the basis that her off-campus living arrangement does not inhibit her ability to represent her on-campus constituents and that her extenuating financial circumstances prevented Salari from living on-campus.
“Understanding that she doesn’t live within her constituency is real and is a serious matter,” Gessesse said. “But Senator Salari has actively and continuously… supported the constituency in which she is elected to live in.”
Salari said she based her decision to live off campus on her financial aid reward and changes in her family’s ability to pay for her tuition.
“I had the fullest intention of living on-campus when I found out I was elected for Senate, however this changed after my election as I received my financial aid package,” Salari said.
Citing financial struggles, Salari said that she and her family “decided that taking out more loans would not be beneficial to my education and long-term academic endeavors.”
As a result of this, Salari found that her only option would be to live in her sorority house, where her financial aid would cover the costs.
“I had to fall back on living in my sorority house in order to make sure that my financial aid would cover all the costs for my housing,” Salari said.
Mukai’s attempt to remove her from her Senate position “inherently violates the student bill of rights” in that it would “be taking a leadership position away from an elected student due to circumstances completely out of our hands,” Salari said.
“Where’s the sense of decency and understanding that students face different struggles?” Salari said.
Gessesse referred to past incidents in which A.S. Senate granted one-time exceptions to senators who lived out of their respective constituency.
“We [should] ask ourselves what makes Senator Salari different between the one-time exceptions that have been granted in the past,” Gessesse said.
But Suebert contends that Senate did not have the authority to grant such exceptions, which would circumvent the power of Judicial Council.
“The only person who is allowed to make exceptions to Legal Code… is the attorney general or the Judicial Council,” Suebert said.
Suebert said that while Senate can re-write or amend Legal Code for future situations, they cannot grant exceptions intended to bypass current Legal Code. These checks and balances of powers with A.S. are designed for fairness among senators, which she said need to be maintained.
“We’re here to make sure that all students that ran in spring election during the campaign, who also may have faced financial hardship, still are held under the same legal obligations of other students who also ran,” Suebert said.
The petitioning team called in Lea Toubian, a current on-campus senator, to testify about how living within her constituency affected her ability to fulfill on-campus duties.
“I think it keeps me more attuned. Since I’m still living [on-campus], it’s pretty relevant to me, but it is difficult to reach all parts of the res-hall community. I think that’s why we have like four different positions,” Tubian said.
“I feel like I wouldn’t have been able to reach [students living at San Rafael] if I wasn’t an on-campus senator.”
Toubian also said that running as an on-campus senator as a freshman in the Spring Quarter 2018 election, like Salari, was easier for herself since she already lived in on-campus housing and was familiar with the on campus student community.
Gessesse countered that although Salari lives off-campus, she is capable of serving her constituency, which can be seen through her involvement in projects such as bring rollover dining common swipes to UCSB.
Gessesse additionally argued that Salari had, in fact, adhered to Legal Code by meeting with A.S. Elections Board in regards to her living situation. A.S. Elections Board subsequently dismissed the complaint, according to Gessesse.
Salari’s transparency in regards to her off-campus living situation during a Senate meeting in Fall Quarter 2018 testifies to her compliance with Legal Code and fulfillment of duties as an on-campus senator. Despite living off-campus, Salari “followed all policies that were in place when she was elected,” Gessesse said.
The responding team also brought On-Campus Senator Zion Solomon to testify about their experience as an off-campus senator. Solomon testified that the projects they worked on as a senator are determined more by her personal passions than her designated constituency.
Solomon also testified that Salari’s accessibility to on-campus students was “better than my own,” citing that Salari’s office hours are held on campus and that Salari specifically focuses on on-campus issues.
At the end of closing statements, Salari asked that the Judicial Council review her case in light of the work she has done for her constituency and the financial circumstances she faced.
“My work should matter more. That’s what affects students more. That’s what students care about, not where I live and where I can’t afford to live,” Salari said. “My work is directly affecting students and wanting to remove will end those projects that are positively affecting them.”
Salari also asked that the Judicial Council review her case as an indicator of the changes in Legal Code needed to accommodate the current student body.
“This is an opportunity for the council to respond to the changing needs of student body and interpret Legal Code accordingly.”
Sofia Mejias-Pascoe is an asst. news editor at the Daily Nexus and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.