The Judiciary will not hear a case from Duke Student Government to overturn the Judiciary’s decision to reallocate $40,000 worth of recovered funds to campus projects.
DSG and the Student Organization Funding Committee dechartered 83 inactive student groups, recovering $40,000 worth of funds, at a March 5 meeting. DSG President Stefani Jones, a senior, submitted the request to undo the process to the Judiciary Monday morning. DSG and SOFC had touted this recovery as a sign of SOFC improving transparency and efficiency, but in a written request to the Judiciary, Jones cited that several members of the DSG executive board noticed “a number of major errors” with the dechartering procedure upon review. These errors, she asserted, prevented student groups from sufficiently understanding how to avoid being dechartered. The Judiciary cited that the motion did not have standing in court.
"The court has interpreted the motion as an appeal to our decision regarding the Motion to Decharter, and we do not recognize appeals to the judiciary," read the official decision.
Jones, however, maintained that her motion should have been heard.
“My motion was not an appeal,” Jones said. "Nowhere did it say it was an appeal. That claim is baseless."
It is impossible that she filed an appeal, Jones noted, because she was never given a formal opinion which she could have appealed.
Unlike an appeal—which attacks a decision that was made—Jones said her motion was to correct problems and inconsistencies with the procedure that was implemented in the dechartering process. These issues were brought to her attention by students outside of DSG.
Although the Judiciary will not hear Jones’ case, sophomore Max Schreiber, chief justice of the Judiciary, noted that if a dechartered student group were to come forward with a case, the body would hear it.
“Her case doesn’t have standing because she is appealing to the Judiciary,” Schrieber said. “We act as DSG’s Supreme Court. Our decision is final.”
Because the motion was to overturn a decision already made, the Judiciary determined that there was no way they could pursue a case in which they were essentially their own defendant.
“If she is suing us, how on Earth do we defend that?” justice Dana Raphael, a freshman, asked rhetorically.
By denying that her case be heard, Jones asserted that her right to due process was violated.
Schreiber said he believed the motives for Jones to file this motion were not ethical.
“We are doing something very effective with the money, and I don’t think they are very happy that we are the ones doing it, and they are not,” Schreiber said.
Raphael suggested that DSG may have filed this motion in order to regain control of the $40,000.
Because the funding accounts for each of the inactive groups have already been deactivated, in order to recharter the groups their accounts would have to be recreated, Schreiber said.
Jones said that the Judiciary's decision on how to allocate the funding was "highly problematic," as it was beyond the scope of their decision making power.
"I am definitely very disappointed with their decision to act outside of their powers and legislate from the bench," she said. "They have been acting in a means that is very much outside of their purview and power."
She added that she was disappointed in the outcome.
The Judiciary is meeting with David Pittman, student activities director at the University Center for Activities and Events, Wednesday to iron out the details of implementing their plan. UCAE will use the money to fund campus improvement projects that students deem to be the most important.
Schreiber described a process by which students submit ideas for improvements to be approved by UCAE based on their feasibility. The projects would be put to a student-wide vote to determine which ones are most broadly supported, and the surplus $40,000 will then be allocated based on ordered student preference. Schreiber is optimistic that the details of the plan will be finalized and implemented for later this month or early in the Fall.
In an email obtained by The Chronicle prior to the Judiciary's meeting, Schreiber encouraged other justices to stand against the executive board's motion.
“I don't care what your philosophy is in regard to how we ruled on the dissolution [and] finance of group—it should be very clear that DSG exec doesn't get a special 'redo' when they mess up. We need, as a court, to take a stand here," Schreiber wrote in the email. "I'm breaking precedent here and asking you all to say this has no standing and we will not hear their case. I'm tired of being pushed around and disrespected by the exec board."
Jones said it is inappropriate that the Judiciary jumped to a conclusion without even intending to give the motion the full consideration that it deserved.
In the meeting, he reiterated his position and requested the support of the other justices.
“I have spent this entire year ensuring that DSG knows that the court acts as a check, not a stamp, on its power," Schreiber added. "While DSG has reacted to this with aggressive vigor—including the attempted impeachment of my associate, [junior] Will Giles when he ran for president—I do not regret that I have taken a stand against their self-interested bullying."
Jones said these claims were completely untrue.
"We never attempted to impeach Will Giles," Jones said.
There are two seemingly contradictory bylaws under Title X of the Student Organization Finance Committee Bylaw. Section 21 suggests that the Judiciary is responsible for re-allocating funds from dissolved groups, whereas Section 22 suggests that the power lies with SOFC.
Section 21 states: “Every group dissolved under this Title shall lose its chartered or recognized status and its fund code. The disposition of its assets shall be at the discretion of the Judiciary in consultation with UCAE.”
Immediately following, Section 22 says: “Money recovered pursuant to this Title shall be returned to the account from which it was allocated, except that money allocated from the Annual Budget shall be returned to the Programming Fund or to the Surplus Fund at the discretion of SOFC. If a group has insufficient funds to comply with a repossession, it shall be prosecuted under Title XI, Section 20.”
Former chief justice Daniel Strunk, a senior, referred to Jones' motion as unusual.
"In this motion, President Jones has publicly and officially proclaimed that she violated the rights of Duke students. More than that, she's attempting to utilize DSG's incompetence as grounds to get the 40k back,” Strunk wrote in an email Monday. “Everything about this is just unusual. I don't think a DSG President has ever done this before."
If DSG wishes to push forward with their motion, they have three options, Schreiber said. They can impeach all justices, introduce a constitutional amendment or wait for a similar case and sue again.
"It is very problematic that the Judiciary would come to a decision without having a hearing or writing a formal decision," Jones said. "Students should be very concerned about this."