Abbas-Kelly ticket awaits results from major grievance SG trial
While no verdict has been reached yet, Student Body President-elect Jaida Abbas and Vice President-elect Jennifer Kelly were tried by the USF Student Government (SG) Supreme Court on Friday for a major grievance filed against their campaign regarding a post about a $25 gift card giveaway.
The trial took place on Microsoft Teams from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. to assess the major grievance. The court has not come to a verdict, and it will have five business days to do so, according to SG statute 501.15.
Filed by senior English major Matthew Gallot-Baker after the election closed, the grievance stated that the Abbas-Kelly ticket had posted a caption on its campaign Instagram @risewithjandj that asked students to follow the account, tag two friends in the post and share the post on their own stories for the chance to win a $25 gift card. The official grievance submitted included screenshots of the caption and accompanying video that was posted March 7.
The subject of the trial was an alleged violation of statute 706.5.8.1.2 which outlines one definition of a major violation that consists of the “use of money or favors to persuade a person or group to act in a certain way, not including purchases of goods or sponsorships.” If found guilty of a major violation, a ticket will be disqualified from the election.
Chief Justice of the SG Supreme Court Shannon Harner oversaw the virtual trial. Maarya Ibrahim, the attorney general, acted as the prosecution along with her co-counsel Deputy Attorney General Samantha Estrella Uy. Yusuf Fattah and Devon Shank both acted as Abbas and Kelly’s defense, previously serving as campaign manager and “student government expert,” respectively, for the ticket during the election.
Throughout the trial, Fattah and Shank argued that gift cards are not money, but rather goods, which are allowed within the parameters of the major violations statutes.
“It all comes down to this one fact, a gift card is not money and money is not a gift card,” Fattah said. “You cannot use a gift card interchangeably like you can money.”
He argued the point-of-sale was the exchange of money for a gift card and not the redemption of a gift card for something else. This point was most thoroughly discussed when SG Supervisor of Elections Shemar McKoy was called as a witness.
During his questioning, Fattah asked McKoy to read a portion of the Amazon gift card terms and services agreement, as the gift card the campaign gave away was from Amazon. During this read Fattah pointed out that Amazon could void purchases. He said private business could not void money, and so gift cards were not money.
Ibrahim and Uy worked to refute Fattah’s claim by arguing that the definition of money is not limited to tangible currency.
“Money can be considered anything that is used in exchange for goods or services,” Ibrahim said. “Regardless of tangibility, regardless of restrictions of gift cards, there is a monetary value assigned to gift cards and are used in exchange for goods or services that also have a monetary value.”
While the question of whether or not gift cards are considered money was the subject of the majority of the trial, another frequently discussed topic was Abbas not recording the gift card expenses in her campaign budget submitted to McKoy on March 15. When Fattah asked her about this, Abbas said she simply forgot to report it.
During her time on the virtual stand, she also said she considered the gift card a good, as she was the one who purchased it, using a part of a $900 donation of sponsorship money. Ibrahim asked to see an itemized list of the campaign donation usage, but none was submitted to the court as evidence.
During Abbas’ time as a witness, Ibrahim also asked questions regarding the winner of the prize. The student who won, nursing major Olivia Garfinkel, was able to select what store the gift card would be from. Ibrahim argued to the court that the posting itself did not specify what the gift card could be, and so it was the equivalent of $25 to convince students to share the campaign’s post and follow its account.
Much of the trial consisted of debating legal proceedings, lines of questioning and objections causing it to last four hours instead of the originally scheduled three. Upon adjournment at 3 p.m., Harner dismissed the other justices to deliberate. She said though she is unsure of when their decision and opinions will be released, they are bound by SG statutes to share them within five business days.
In the event the Supreme Court assesses the Abbas-Kelly ticket guilty of the alleged major violation, they will be disqualified from the race and the SG Senate will have to select the next student body president and vice president from the pool of existing candidates, which currently only consists of Julia Cunningham and Jillian Wilson.
The Cunnngham-Wilson ticket was found in violation of three of seven minor grievances filed by the Abbas-Kelly ticket campaign team April 5 regarding the use of university logos in campaign material and advertising in-person tabling events on campus.
This is a developing story. Stay with The Oracle for more updates.