Editor’s Note: This is a breaking news story and it will be updated as the New University receives additional information and quotes. The New University has access to multiple copies of ASUCI President Michelle Wei’s preliminary recall hearing, which were downloaded from the anonymous Reddit post prior to when it was deleted.
Update 1/10/22 at 4 p.m.: An anonymous Chief of Staff within the Office of the President provided the New University a full screenshot of the private Senate Slack channel that was not shown during the preliminary recall hearing. The article has been updated to include this information.
Update 1/11/22 at 12:00 p.m.: The New University has contacted the ASUCI Judicial Board for a statement and has received no response. The New University is awaiting full response from the ASUCI Senate.
Update 1/12/22 at 4:40 p.m.: ASUCI Sen. and presidential candidate Yoseph Ghazal has provided additional screenshots of the private Senate Slack channel. The article has been updated to include this information and Ghazal’s comments, as well as the Judicial Board’s comments in the Senate meeting held yesterday.
A Reddit post titled “mr senator prez” that was anonymously posted to the r/UCI subreddit on Jan. 10 at 3:01 a.m. contained the full recording of ASUCI President and fourth year education sciences student Michelle Wei’s preliminary recall hearing, Michelle Wei v. Sina Shahrood, held on Dec. 12. As of Jan. 10 at 4 p.m., the Reddit post containing the recording has since been deleted but comments of the post can still be accessed.
This preliminary hearing was petitioned by Wei on the grounds that ASUCI At-Large Sen. and fourth year biological sciences student Sina Shahrood, filer of the ASUCI President recall petition, violated the ASUCI Ethics Code. While the ruling in favor of Shahrood was made public, the contents of the hearing itself were previously unknown.
The hearing began with opening statements from Wei and Shahrood’s respective representatives — fourth year political science student and twice-recalled ASUCI Senator Logan Knight, and ASUCI Senator and fourth year political science student Zachary “Zach” Griggy.
Knight argued that Shahrood employed rhetorical attacks in his petition to recall Wei and went against ASUCI Ethics Code Article 4, Section 5 in filing this petition as a member of the Senate.
“Further recalls are meant to be direct democracy, but this recall is being used as a tool by the Senate. There are specific rules in our governing documents that make it clear that Senators are not supposed to use their office to campaign against candidates. That’s why impeachment exists. It’s a channel for the Senate to use, but [they] did not use it. You can ask them themselves why they didn’t use it. But I can also just tell you the bar for impeachment is very high, and the bar for recall is very low. It’s just a defect of our government documents,” Knight said.
Griggy responded that Wei’s case was filed outside of the time limit as specified in the ASUCI Constitution and that harassment does not have legal basis as cause to dismiss a recall petition. He alluded to screenshots made of private Senate chat conversations but claimed they lacked necessary contextualization.
“Mr. Knight’s claims that inflammatory rhetoric and students criticizing President Wei are grounds to dismiss a recall petition are not grounded in law. And finally, this new claim that they have made, [about the] Senate is that there’s some kind of Senate conspiracy to attack and remove President Wei is grounded on deceptively edited screenshots of Senate chats. Yes, those are Senate chats, but they lack context and they lack information that shows that these are not what the plaintiff alleges them to be,” Griggy said.
Regarding this claim, Knight answered that he believed the recall petition was used inappropriately by the Senate in what he alleged was an act of collusion to promote the collection of petition signatures.
“[The recall petition] is not intended for the use of the Senate as a political tool to remove a President that they dislike. And that’s what’s going on here. Basically, you can claim that you were doing it as an individual, but if we have evidence that you were in a group colluding to kind of work together to push the recall, which we have, then it suggests that you are actually doing this as the Senate’s. And we believe that we’ve proved that with our evidence here,” Knight said.
Knight noted that among the Senators present in the aforementioned Senate chat conversation was ASUCI Sen., presidential candidate and fourth year computer science student Yoseph Ghazal.
“We are also seeing that Sen. Ghazal is running for the position that President Wei currently has. And he was in the chat also helping with this recall effort. So clearly, it is not exactly, as the council says, an individual effort. This seems like a move by the Senate. The Senate seems to be coordinating together to do something, at least. So we would like to see the full truth behind it before we render judgment or before judgment is rendered here,” Knight said.
Throughout the hearing, arguments were made about whether to interpret the proposed harassment violation of the ASUCI Ethics Code under the precedent of U.S. political history or the broader definitions set forth by the Code itself.
In his rebuttal, Griggy pointed out that while a statement of intent to appeal was previously submitted, Wei’s petition to appeal the recall did not follow Article 12 of the ASUCI Constitution.
“The Constitution, it’s very clear that the named official may challenge [the recall] up to 72 hours [after]. But they didn’t actually file their appeal until 10 days after the Elections Commission’s decision,” Griggy said.
Griggy also cited disparaging remarks made toward previous U.S. Presidents to assert that while inflammatory, the language used in the recall petition was not sufficient reason for the petition’s dismissal as the Senate had also faced public criticism.
“Recognize that, you know, people that are engaged in political debate can often use fiery rhetoric and hyperbole. And I’ve routinely upheld incendiary language that, you know, could be in fact deemed inflammatory,” Griggy said.
He cited a previous Reddit post made by user /u/mmmbro when providing an example of provocative language aimed toward the Senate as a whole, and later referred to the Reddit user as “a ‘fan’ of Michelle” who attacked the Senate in saying that “the Senate likes to make ASUCI their own reality TV show.”
“Take, for example, a Reddit post that was made two weeks ago that basically said we had done nothing because we hadn’t spent any of our budget. I have personally written 15 pieces of legislation. I take offense to that. Is that, you know, the fact that I dispute that enough grounds to prove that element? I don’t think so,” Griggy said.
In response, Knight spoke of a desire for ASUCI petitions to withhold rhetoric. He acknowledged that while Shahrood did not personally harass Wei, his petition encouraged inappropriate harassment toward her through multiple Reddit posts, messages on Wei’s personal Instagram and two students visiting the Students Experience Commission on Nov. 30.
“That’s why we want to change. We don’t want ASUCI to be on Reddit, on the news, every single year with this guy getting recalled and it’s, ‘Oh, this guy is an evil person who did this or whatnot.’ That’s [why] we’re trying to set a standard of, ‘OK, you want to recall, you set forth specific facts and you just let the students decide [if] that’s what we want.’ We never said Sen. Shahrood was personally harassing President Wei. We would never make that claim. We have no evidence of that. We’re saying that the petition put forward by Sen. Shahrood incited the harassment,” Knight said.
Griggy countered Knight’s claim by stating that Wei had never contacted the Student Advocate General (SAG) office to file a harassment complaint.
“They never contacted the SAG office to substantiate any of their allegations. And frankly, that is something that they must have done if they wanted to allege a violation of the Code of Ethics,” Griggy said.
The hearing was then opened for questions from the audience. One question asked Griggy how to differentiate between inflammatory remarks and political criticism, as he previously mentioned receiving attacks upon his character yet did not petition to have them overturned as Michelle had.
“I don’t differentiate, and they’re both statements of opinion rather than speculation and political speech. You are allowed to voice their opinions and in political speech, especially the right to voice an opinion that may not be objectively true or false. You know, [Sharood] has reason to believe those things, and he has the right to say them,” Griggy said.
In a follow-up question, Griggy was asked if a petition could be passed based upon speculation given an adequate amount of signatures.
“Because of the facts that are alleged in the complaint, President Wei cannot claim that any of the statements that were listed violate the Sullivan standard. She provides no evidence [of] their falsity. Nor does she allege that Shahrood had any reason to believe that the statements were false,” Griggy said.
Knight was asked to cite the specific Code of Ethics article number that Wei claimed Shahrood violated.
“So that would be Code of Ethics, Article 4, Section 10 and 11, a one of them is specifically electronic harassment, though hate speech, sexual remarks, rumors, identity theft [or] false victimization spread to the internet,” Knight said.
In response, Griggy stated that there were other motivations behind comments directed towards Wei that were not necessarily incendiary in nature.
“These statements that they’re alleging as harassment do serve legitimate purpose[s]. They are students voicing public criticism of President Wei. Public political criticism is a legitimate interest,” Griggy said.
In focus for the latter half of the hearing were the contents of the ASUCI Senate’s private Slack channel, titled “senate-chat,” submitted by Knight on behalf of an anonymous whistleblower as evidence of potential collusion within the Senate.
In an email to the New University sent on Jan. 12 at 3:06 a.m., Ghazal responded with context behind the messages posted in the private Senate Slack channel that contained evidence of potential collusion within the Senate.
“In other words, no one used their [S]enator emails and no one created graphics to spread the recall using their titles as [S]enators. Until this day, no screenshots or evidence of any accusations has ever been found. And in fact, there are [S]enators who have made sure to defend [Wei] when there were mean comments. Attached is an image of [S]enators defending [Wei] when a comment (that has been deleted) made fun of her teeth. The person who screenshotted the chat where [S]enators asked if [Wei] is in this chat intentionally left out the conversations that immediately followed. Senators reported that Reddit comment to get it taken down,” Ghazal said.
Above: Screenshot in the Slack senate-chat, which was provided by Ghazal, of Senate response to a Reddit comment about Wei.
One of the Senate chat screenshots appears to show Sens. Jason Sanchez, Henry Nguyen Vu and Griggy discussing how to publicize the recall petition. In addition to various school group chats and the College Dems, to which Griggy had informed the Senators that “a few of their members signed,” Nguyen Vu alluded to a shared plan to speak with constituents about the petition.
“I thought we were going to wait for graphics, but I can work on telling my constituents then,” Nguyen Vu said.
In his response, Ghazal provided further screenshots of the conversation where Senators discussed “picketing,” stating that the messages were misconstrued in the preliminary hearing.
“Those screenshots had nothing to do with the recall election. It was in regards to the Academic Senate and the situation when Canvas went down,” Ghazal said.
Griggy claimed in the hearing that his involvement in the recall election was limited only to informing others of the petition in an impartial manner.
“I can see arguments for both sides … I did not go up and tell them I was a Senator. You know, this is big news [so] might as well tell the College Dems about it. And, yeah, so really, that’s all it was here, just looking at, you know?” Griggy said.
However, a full screenshot provided to the New University on Jan. 10 at 1:38 p.m. by an anonymous Chief of Staff associated with the Office of the President reveals that within the Senate chat, Griggy expressed support for the petition along with his fellow Senators, and stated that “the faster the petition gets signatures, the more momentum for the recall.” This message was not made visible for the duration of the preliminary hearing.
In Article 4, Section 5 of the ASUCI Ethics Code, it is stated that “No officer of ASUCI, while acting in their capacity or in the course and scope of their employment, shall use the influence or prestige of their position or title as an employee or officer of ASUCI for or against any candidate for any elected office of ASUCI. This shall not preclude any officer of ASUCI from participating in any political process solely in his or her individual capacity as a private citizen.”
Regarding the ASUCI Ethics Code, Ghazal admitted that “2-3” Senators were unaware of the rule against the use of their influence as Senate members to further spread the recall petition. However, he also said that he discouraged them from doing so and “shut them down” in his announcement made on Nov. 19.
“There were 2-3 senators (as seen in screenshots from the trial) that did not know they can’t use their abilities to spread their abilities. I shut them down before they could do anything against the rules,” Ghazal said.
Griggy was asked if, given Nguyen Vu’s statement, there is any context to suggest that “this isn’t a Senator telling their constituents about the petition,” as access to these constituents would be beyond an individual’s capacity as separate from the Senate.
“I mean, well. Potentially, I mean, it could be construed that way,” Griggy said. “You know, [Nguyen Vu] has the right to tell people about the goings on of ASUCI, whether or not he was going to campaign for it.”
As Griggy did not reveal his involvement with the recall effort to the court, he was not asked about himself.
Previously unknown to the court, Griggy cited an additional screenshot alleged to be from Wei’s Discord channel, in defense of what he conceded may be an infraction of the ASUCI Ethics Code.
“If this is a violation of the Ethics Code, I would also like to add that the plaintiff herself is guilty of this same charge. I will be happy to provide additional evidence to that effect from the president’s Discord channel,” Griggy said. Although Griggy was unable to submit the screenshot during the hearing “as it was sent so late,” in response to the Reddit recording, presidential candidate Ghazal posted the alleged screenshot under the username /u/Such-Stretch3777.
Ghazal also said he encouraged fellow Senators not to use ASUCI resources in promoting the petition, and he provided a screenshot as evidence.
Concerning his edited second message, Ghazal wrote that although he does not have a screenshot of the original message, he would share additional messages of Senators denying involvement in the recall petition.
“I did not make any edits after Nov. 19, I don’t remember what the edit was but I think it was for a typo. I have no way to prove the edit history, but here are screenshots of senators and I echoing the same sentiment of my announcement,” Ghazal said.
“As you can see, many Senators have reiterated that this is not a Senate effort in the chats. Obviously we talk about it a lot, but most of these conversations happened on Nov. 19, the day of the recall. This was such big news nearly every ASUCI group chat was talking about the recall. But talking and supporting does not mean they overstepped their boundaries and abused their powers as Senators, nor collectively organized this recall,” Ghazal said.
In the conclusion of his email response, Ghazal again reiterated that the Senate acted as individual students rather than Senators in their distribution and discussion of the recall petition.
“As you’ve seen in the leaked screenshots, not once is it shown that [Shahrood] or I even promoted support for the recall. Not once has [Shahrood] messaged about the recall in the chat, and not once have I said anything in support. Once again, Senators acted in their rights as individuals to support the recall. There was no Senate planning done to use our powers to promote this as seen in both my screenshots and the leaked ones. The only advertising addressed in the screenshots is when [Griggy] mentioned he shared it with the College Democrats, and when [Sanchez] mentioned he shared it in some group chats. Those were done in their rights as individual students. But beyond that, no emails were sent out to constituents, no graphics were created (albeit, two people wanted some as seen in chat, but no graphics were after I made my message clear), and no one used ASUCI resources to promote this recall,” Ghazal said.
Additional screenshots of the ASUCI Judicial Board Supplementary Brief were shared by the anonymous Chief of Staff to the New University following the conclusion of the preliminary hearing. Within the Brief, evidence is provided to implicate Ghazal and other members of the Senate as colluding over the recall petition, referring to “our side.” Email correspondence between Shahrood and Ghazal is requested, as is further investigation into the ASUCI Senate Slack channel.
In the email response to the New University, Ghazal revealed that he is in direct communication with the ASUCI Judicial Board regarding the New University’s private communications with the Board. While he wrote that “[the New University] only asked them to confirm [Ghazal’s] claim that they decided not to investigate the Senate screenshots,” the New University asked directly for a statement regarding the outcome of the trial, as shown in our correspondence with the Judicial Board, screenshotted below.
Within the email response excerpt captured above, Ghazal maintained that Chief Justice and fourth year Criminology, Law and Society major Katherine Vine spoke in yesterday’s Senate meeting about investigating the leakers of the original documents, rather than the Senate chat. The New University, as of 4:20 p.m., has not received a response from the Judicial Board.
“I know a lot of you might want me to address some of the things that you may have seen on Reddit or the New University. Unfortunately right now, it is an investigation by the Student Advocate General, so once that’s all cleared up we’ll be able to discuss it but right now we can’t,” Vine said.
“Just quick clarification, the investigation is for the information being leaked and not the Senate chats, just to make it publicly clear?” Ghazal asked.
“Yeah, apologies for not making that clear,” Vine responded.
In response, Ghazal claimed that the reference to ”our side” was a “joke” in regards to Wei’s appeal for a preliminary hearing. He provides a screenshot that he alleged began the conversation that these messages were sent from.
“Notice how when Sarah says ‘our side’ it’s in quotes. That’s poking fun and making a joke how Michelle thinks this recall is a Senate initiative, hence why I respond with that emoji. The conversation began in regards to the Judicial Board injunction on the elections when Michelle filed her appeal. Judicial Board notified my senate president email of the injunction, and then I announced it in the senate-announcements chat,” Ghazal said.
How Griggy and Ghazal are involved as fellow Senators and received access to the screenshots are unknown.
A question was asked about the separation of Shahrood’s identity as a student from his role as a Senator, given the discussions held over Slack of reaching out to constituents about Shahrood’s petition.
“Nothing came from me. They were all talking about this from their own volition. And in the screenshots, my name was in it one time and that was taken out of context. It was probably by mistake. I’m hoping that it was by mistake, but we were talking about something about the Academic Senate,” Shahrood said.
Previously, the New University covered Shahrood’s petition to recall Wei. The Senate commented on the time the article was published, with Sanchez speculating that “Michelle is the one who wrote it and used a pen name.”
In response to Sanchez’s unfounded speculation, the New University continues to be an independent student publication.
When a “senate retreat to [K]orea” was suggested, Sanchez responded with, “I ain’t trying to see how Kim J[o]ng[-]un looks in person.”
“[Sanchez’s] ‘I ain’t trying to see how Kim Jung Un looks in person’ is in reference to when he says ‘South Korea’ to specify which Korea is meant. Admittedly still not a good joke, but nowhere near as bad as what it was made to seem,” Ghazal said regarding Sanchez’s comment.
At 1:24:00, Slack messages are shown in which Senate members appear to discuss creating fake Reddit accounts or commenting under already existing Reddit accounts in regards to the petition and “the facts,” which Sen. Sandra Sandria wrote “speak for themselves.”
“This is a lot of Senators talking about the unfair and scurrilous accusations that were levied against us in some of the in some of the /u/mmmbro responses … so we were just talking about how, you know, we wanted to respond to it because frankly, we don’t want to be the target of unnecessary defamation like that,” Griggy said.
Following the presentation of evidence, Shahrood was asked, concerning his mention in the petition that Wei would fall asleep in meetings, which meetings he were referring to and whether they were open to the public.
“I was being hyperbolic in that statement because of the time zone difference. It would be assumed that somebody would. And if they would have to be staying up as late as they would have to be for those meetings, they would be falling asleep. But yeah, so it was hyperbolic,” Shahrood said.
Later, Griggy clarified that Wei had in fact fallen asleep in the ASUCI Senate meeting on Thursday of Week 3 during the fall quarter.
Shahrood was also asked if the Ethics Code could be evaded by claiming he filed the petition as an individual, since this would create just cause to “avoid half of the things that are on [the Code].”
“So, yeah, but no, me being a Senator was not in any of those Reddit comments or anything, my name was not brought up. And the fact that I’m a Senator was not brought up. The only time that me being a Senator was brought up was in the New U article,” Shahrood said at 1:42:06 in the recording.
The final question for Griggy was if his role in the Constitutional Reform committee would have prevented Wei from proposing a change to the ASUCI Constitution.
“I’m very fair with the Constitutional Reform Committee, even when there are things that I disagree with. And frankly, to be completely honest, [Wei] hasn’t attended a future fund committee meeting in weeks,” Griggy said.
As the meeting drew to a close, Wei had the chance to speak and respond to the prior claims made by Griggy about her absence and the SAG office.
“I actually did reach out to SAG about filing a complaint, but I decided not to because I didn’t want it to look like I was just retaliating against the petition … I was just going to say that I guess it’s kind of hard for me to go to the meetings with Senate when it’s kind of obvious that no one in the Senate likes me. So I don’t really feel like my opinion will really matter and I don’t really want to be in that space, either,” Wei said.
In his closing remarks, Knight emphasized the importance of further inquiry into the Senate’s alleged involvement in the motivations and distribution of the recall petition.
“You know, apparently some of the stuff that I received from the whistleblower was not correct, but I think some of it was still fairly on target there. But I think that’s just further proof that this probably needs to go to discovery,” Knight said.
On the other hand, Griggy argued again that Wei could not allege Shahrood defamed her without direct evidence.
“She provides no evidence that any of the statements were false, nor does she provide any evidence or even allege that Shahrood had reason to believe that those statements were false. She cannot prove claims of defamation,” Griggy said.
Shahrood was given the remainder of Griggy’s time to speak. He stressed his belief that a large majority of students would support the recall petition and its stated goals given the previous voter turnout.
“I would just like to say, there were 300 students that signed that petition. That resonated with that petition. And that was with very little advertising. There are so many students that agree with the sentiments of that petition,” Shahrood said.
As shown in the ruling, the Judicial Board ruled in favor of Shahrood and determined that the ASUCI Ethics Code would not be legally relevant to his recall petition.
“The Board acknowledges that Mr. Shahrood did not use information they would have obtained as a Senator and petitioned from their personal account, and so submitted the petition as a student … note, though, that this makes no statement on guilt for or against Mr. Shahrood, only on the Judicial Board’s jurisdiction to dismiss the recall petition,” the ruling stated.
The ruling additionally commented on their opinions of the language used in the petition and elsewhere regarding Wei.
“However, it deeply disturbs the Board the way in which the petition was written and the effects this had on President Wei. We as a Board highly encourage direct democracy, but this does not mean bullying should be condoned in its process … The petition in question utilized incendiary language that we find unethical and extraordinarily consequential for what it is,” the ruling stated.
The ruling ended with a deliberation on the nature of the Senate chat screenshots and if it were worthy of a more thorough investigation.
“Despite not moving forward with a formal hearing, during this case, there have been some rather concerning screenshots from official Senate conversations that the Judicial Board, or the Student Advocate General, may wish to further investigate. However, these are not grounds to continue this petition against Mr. Shahrood. The students will decide the results of the recall election through direct democracy. However, questions on ethics violations still remain, and may be investigated further,” the ruling stated.
Voting for the ASUCI President in the 2022 Special Presidential Recall & Election will remain open until Jan. 12 at 5 p.m. on the elections webpage.
Emma Cho is a 2021-2022 Campus News Co-Editor. She can be reached at email@example.com.