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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Benigno remains SBP-elect, says J-court ruling

Joseph Benigno
Joseph Benigno

Joseph Benigno will remain A&M’s student body president-elect, after A&M’s Judicial Court ruled no action would be taken to reverse the election commissioner’s decisions not to fine Benigno’s campaign.
J-Court’s Thursday evening announcement resolved several election issues that centered around a Benigno campaign video titled “Go(Pro) with Joe.” Former SBP candidate Michael Murtha’s team asserted Benigno should be fined for several election regulation and state traffic violations seen in the video — an argument struck down by the court’s plurality opinion.
The court’s plurality opinion also found no fault in Election Commissioner Emma Douglas’ decision to not fine Benigno for his actions in the video. Murtha’s team argued Douglas’ actions were biased in light of her earlier decision to fine former SBP candidate Isaiah Tsau for election violations.
Judicial Court’s Murtha v. Douglas & Benigno decision addressed four issues in total, but the case often saw the court’s nine justices closely split on the ruling’s specifics. In narrow 5-4 majorities, five voted in Murtha’s favor on whether or not off-campus campaigning did occur and five voted not to reverse Douglas’ actions as election commissioner.
“This is by far the longest, most complicated and closest decision in Judicial Court history,” wrote SGA chief justice Brenton Cooper in an emailed statement.
The court voted 8-1 that Douglas showed no bias toward Benigno when she did not levy fines against his campaign, but did fine Tsau for election violations. The vote went 6-3 to side with Benigno on whether his alleged state traffic violations should result in levied fines from Douglas.
Though he said Benigno would be a qualified SBP, Murtha said he is disappointed and thinks the ruling sets a precedent in future elections that rules can be broken without consequence.
“I think that the way that the decision worked the majority said that three instances of off-campus campaigning occurred which would have been three major fines,” Murtha said. “And that’s really sad that while they agreed that major violations of the rules occurred they were not able to overturn the election commissioner like their constitution says they’re allowed to. I think it’s really disappointing that our Judicial Court decided not to act in the way they are supposed to by upholding the rules and regulations.”
Benigno said he is pleased with the outcome of the ruling.
“Obviously we would have preferred to win simply through election of the student body but we’re thankful that the court ruled in the same way that the student body did,” Benigno said. “And so while the entire situation has been unfortunate, we’re grateful that it worked out the way it did.”
Murtha said J-Court’s admission that rules were violated — and the subsequent decision not to assess fines — shows there are issues with the system.
“There were obvious rules broken in his film and the J-Court case has set precedence that what the election commissioner says is set in stone and it’s not able to be overturned regardless of whether they’re right or wrong,” Murtha said.
Now that the trial is over, Murtha said he hopes to continue to serve the student body and that he is deeply sorry the SBP process continued for so long.
“I really want the student body to know I personally am deeply sorry that this continued on for so long,” Murtha said. “I’m sorry that it got so out of hand. I believe that A&M and the student body deserves the best from their elected officials or people that are running to be elected and I think that a lot of things got out of hand.”
With the ruling behind him, Benigno said his next step will be to continue to support Kyle Kelly until the SBP transition on April 21 at Muster.
“I hope [the student body] knows that justice was done and the correct decision was made, both by the student body and by the court,” Benigno said.

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