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Judicial Board finds USAC members did not engage in conflicts of interest

By Janet Nguyen

May 21, 2014 6:34 p.m.

This post was updated at 8:32 p.m.

The undergraduate student government Judicial Board ruled Wednesday that two councilmembers who went on free trips to Israel while in office did not engage in conflicts of interest.

Students for Justice in Palestine filed a petition with the Undergraduate Students Association Council Judicial Board last month, claiming that outgoing General Representative Sunny Singh and outgoing Financial Supports Commissioner Lauren Rogers violated the USAC bylaws by voting on a controversial divestment resolution after going on trips with the Anti-Defamation League and Project Interchange, respectively, while in office, respectively.

In February, USAC councilmembers voted down a divestment resolution calling for the University of California and UCLA to divest from five companies with ties to the Israeli military, along with any other companies that it claims are involved in human rights abuses.

The USAC Judicial Board decided in a 4-0-2 vote that Singh’s and Rogers’ votes were “valid and legitimate.”

The resolution, Judicial Board case and other divestment-related issues have been the center of controversy on and off campus, with numerous external media groups reporting on the events.

According to USAC bylaws, a conflict of interest occurs when councilmembers have “an unauthorized financial interest or obligation which might cause divided loyalty or even the appearance of divided loyalty.” A 2011 Judicial Board case set the precedent for the clause.

Students for Justice in Palestine members presented their case to the Judicial Board on May 15, claiming that thousands of dollars in gifts could potentially affect the votes and stances of councilmembers. Group members added that they think councilmembers should avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.

During the hearing, Rogers and Singh said they did not use any of their offices’ resources to go on the trips, and they do not have ongoing relationships with the organizations that sponsored the trips.

Both also said they felt personally attacked by Students for Justice in Palestine for going on the trips.

Singh and Rogers said they were happy with the Judicial Board’s decision. Rogers said she thinks the board upheld “the right and responsibility of free speech, free association and education.”

Singh said he thinks the Judicial Board’s decision proves the allegations were baseless.

A memorandum from the Judicial Board said that members are “aware of the sensitivity of the case at hand, but (their) decision is not to be misconstrued as a position on the issue of divestment.”

Members of Students for Justice in Palestine said in a statement that they thought the verdict was a “major blow to the integrity of student government at UCLA.”

The group said it plans to release documentation that shows Singh was asked to use what he learned on his trip in his role as a councilmember and that Project Interchange organizers sent a letter to Rogers asking her to vote against divestment.

The verdict as it stands validates behavior which many students believe was unethical and a violation of the duty of student government representatives,” the statement read.

The full Judicial Board opinion will be made available within two weeks.

Compiled by Janet Nguyen, Bruin contributor.

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