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Friday, June 09, 2023
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UB Students' Party Found Guilty of Libel

The Student Association Elections and Credentials Committee ruled Thursday that the UB Students' Party violated SA regulations against the dissemination of false information pertaining to an election.

The Results Party filed suit against the UB Students Thursday, claiming that the party made false and libelous statements in a campaign flier distributed last week. The first contested statement charged that current SA officers "have total control over bands hired to play Fall and Spring Fest and allow NO STUDENT INPUT."

The E & C committee decided in favor of the Results party on this claim, stating that upon a preponderance of the evidence, "the comment printed was false and libelous."

The second contested statement claimed that current SA executive board members "spent $931 OF YOUR MONEY on 'stickers for condoms' which aren't readily available to students." The E & C committee did not find the UB Students' in violation for this statement.

"We respect the decision of the E & C Committee, but the charges were groundless to begin with," said UB Students' presidential hopeful Jason Litwak.

The UB Students' Party was required to write an apology to the Results Party and any students misled by the statements, to be printed in the Spectrum. The letter can be found on page four of today's issue.

"We were disappointed that the UB Students' Party never bothered to take the time to ask us any questions about why we spent the money the way we did," said SA President and Results Party candidate Christian Oliver.

The UB Students claimed that the flier represented valid political commentary.

"We never personally attacked Chris Oliver," said Litwak. "What we attacked is the way [the SA administration] conducts business and the way they spend student money."

"I don't think we did anything wrong to be quite honest with you," said Melinda Mulwaka, UB Students' NYSSA candidate. "A public figure is going to be criticized."

The Results Party, however, viewed the statements as slanderous attacks not appropriate in student elections.

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"They said they're not trying to bash us personally, but it does affect us personally, especially if those claims are not true," said SA Treasurer Naazli Ahmed.

"The statement that 'it's politics' is the entire problem," said NYSSA delegate and Results vice-presidential candidate Jennifer Brace. "This has been a political campaign rather than a student government campaign."

The E & C committee's decision came after a hearing held Thursday night in the SA office. According to section 6 of the SA election regulations, "No candidate, party or representative may convey false information pertaining to election in any way, shape or form."

Oliver presented the Results Party's case and attorney Damon Serota defended the UB Students' Party. Each side was allotted 15 minutes to present testimony, followed by questioning from the E & C members and closing statements.

Results Party's Claim: Input at Fests

Oliver attempted to demonstrate that SA did indeed solicit input from students regarding band selection via freshmen orientation, although such input may not have been total.

"Unfortunately, the process of choosing Fall and Spring Fest is a very, very, very complicated one that prohibits student-wide input," Oliver said in a post-hearing interview. "However, we did reach a fourth of the population through freshmen and that surely is more than no student input."

Cheryl Rozario, a summer orientation aide, testified for the Results Party that SA executives polled students regarding their choice for performers using a combination of voice and hand votes at each of the freshmen orientations.

Rozario also testified that Vinny Rondinelli, a UB Students' NYSSA candidate, attended "at least four or five" of the eight freshmen orientations, and was therefore aware of the informal polls.

Rondinelli admitted he was an orientation aide, but said he was only present for one of the polls.

The UB Students' Party argued that the methodology was not scientifically accurate, and that polling incoming freshmen was not representative of the entire student body, since there was a limited list of pre-selected bands and no notice was given to upperclassmen that such a vote would take place.

"[The Results Party] limited student input at such a degree that it was virtually non-existent," said Litwak.

"Maybe it's the loudest voices that have the greatest input," said Serota.

The UB Students' attorney cited First Amendment freedom of expression as justification for criticizing public figures, noting that political commentary is designed to be slanted. "The process allows you to criticize what other people have to say," Serota said.

He said the statement was not a "malicious falsehood," but was designed to express the party's belief that SA did not seek out "meaningful input."

Oliver admitted that the process for choosing bands was not ideal, but maintained that the statement's wording of "no student input" was false.

"If they want to criticize us for the process, then criticize us for the process, but don't make allegations that are factually incorrect," he said.

Results Party Claim: Stickers for Condoms

Oliver's first witness was Lisa Galus, SA's assistant promotions director, who said the condoms "were completely readily available to the students."

Galus said the condoms were distributed on tables during weekly SA days and AIDS Awareness Day and were available in the SA office. She said between 3,000 and 4,000 students obtained SA condoms on "at least eight or nine different days" at "eight or nine different locations."

The UB Students' argued the condoms were not readily available because the SA office was locked after hours and could not be "obtained any time." Litwak suggested they be contained in vending machines and accessible with a UB card.

Oliver distributed invoices showing SA spent only $373 on stickers for the condoms, not the $931 stated in the UB Students' flier. The remainder of the money went toward "get involved" stickers and SA logo stickers for the blue distribution boxes at various locations throughout campus.

"What is written down as a description in a budget line doesn't tell the story of what happened. It's an accounting measure, not a managerial measure, of what happened," Oliver said.

Serota asked Oliver if the budget line was misleading to a student unaccustomed with SA finances. The UB Students' acquired their information from the SA budget, accessible via the SA Web site.

"I can see how a very uninformed person could make that assumption," Oliver said.

Serota said the UB Students' statement about the price of the stickers might have been uninformed, but it was not intentionally deceitful, a prerequisite for libel.

"They were not trying to distort, they were not trying to provide false information," Serota said.

Oliver emphasized that SA regulations did not require the demonstration of malicious intent, only the provision of false information.

"They might have had good intentions and perhaps they were lazy but the information is irrelevant in my mind because they were false," said Oliver.

"I took offense to the fact that they said we were lazy," said Mulwaka. "The average student should not have a feat ahead of them if they want to find financial statements."

The Outcome

Litwak said he would not appeal the E & C's ruling. "We feel the student body is frankly fed up with such childish allegations. We don't want to continue it any further."

The E & C committee forbid the UB Students from circulating any more of the disputed fliers.

"I hope students think for themselves of how the Results Party has conducted themselves for the entire year, how they've conducted themselves through this campaign and they don't believe everything they hear," said Oliver.



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