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Judiciary dismisses complaint against attorney general that delayed Young Trustee results

Filed just hours before voting would end, the complaint that delayed the Young Trustee election results by two days was dismissed by the Duke Student Government Judiciary Friday afternoon.

Junior Jason Scharff filed the complaint against Attorney General John Markis on the grounds that Markis’ emails to undergraduates for Young Trustee voting “primed voters towards or against specific candidates” due to its mentions of “the cost of tuition” and “Duke’s investment in fossil fuel industries,” according to the Judiciary’s Feb. 14 opinion.

Scharff specifically requested for the Judiciary to delay the results of the election and to hold another one “using neutral wording after adequate time had been given to reduce the effect of priming.” 

Although the Judiciary did not issue a judgment on the matter of priming, the Judiciary held that the two key phrases of Markis’ email did not violate the Duke Constitution or bylaws. The justices dismissed Scharff’s claims that Markis’ email violated the preamble to the DSG Constitution and the guarantee of equal protection under the law. 

The opinion stated that Markis did exceed the purview of his role as attorney general, and recommended that the attorney general avoid making statements on issues relevant in an election cycle.

“It comes as no surprise to the Judiciary that the Election Rules and Procedures established by the Statute of Duke Student Government for 2020 describe where the responsibility of the Attorney General begins but fail to delineate where it must end, given that the Statute was introduced to Senate by Attorney General Markis himself,” the opinion stated. “As it stands, the 2020 Statute provides the Attorney General considerable leeway by not specifying any relevant prohibitions that shall constrain the rights and duties of the Attorney General. The Judiciary recommends such consideration for future legislative work.”

Markis, a senior news reporter for The Chronicle, pushed back against Scharff’s complaint.

“While I respect Mr. Scharff's ability to petition, it is still my responsibility to ensure that voters understand the gravity of the Young Trustee position,” Markis wrote in a message to The Chronicle. “With that being said, if any candidate had some affiliation with or a notable stance on the issues I highlighted, I undoubtedly would have refrained from mentioning them."

The Judiciary elaborated that this “phrasing was unnecessary,” but the statements did not constitute “an irreparable breach of procedure,” so a re-election was unwarranted. However, the Judiciary explained that it is possible students could have voted with the mentioned issues in mind, which is “particularly problematic should a Young Trustee candidate have mentioned either issue during their campaign.” 

“The Young Trustee has an outsized impact on the direction of this institution, especially in terms of expenditures,” Markis wrote in his email to undergraduates. “The Young Trustee sits on the council which determines the cost of tuition as well as Duke’s investment in fossil fuel industries, so if these issues matter to you, voting offers the most time-efficient chance to be heard.”

Young Trustee candidates are not allowed to have issue-based platforms. The DSG Senate can issue further inquiries into Markis’ conduct, the opinion details.

The complaint was filed Wednesday, Feb. 12 at 10:29 a.m., within two hours of the end of voting. The Judiciary issued a formal injunction at 12:56 p.m the same day, delaying the election results until Feb. 14 at 1 p.m. In the injunction, it stated that the Judiciary’s authority to do so stemmed from Title II, Section 6 of the General Judicial Code of Procedure. However, Chief Justice Georgia Lala, a senior, accidentally cited the wrong section.

“I was referring to an old copy of our GJCP,” Lala wrote in an email. “The correct citation is Title IV Section 1 in the General Judicial Code of Procedure that crystallises the powers of the Judiciary outlined in the Constitution.”

The code can be found below.

The Judiciary noted in its Feb. 14 opinion that Young Trustee election results were initially intended to be released Feb. 12 at 1:30 p.m.

Stefanie Pousoulides | Investigations Editor

Stefanie Pousoulides is The Chronicle's Investigations Editor. A senior from Akron, Ohio, Stefanie is double majoring in political science and international comparative studies and serves as a Senior Editor of The Muse Magazine, Duke's feminist magazine. She is also a former co-Editor-in-Chief of The Muse Magazine and a former reporting intern at PolitiFact in Washington, D.C.


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