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Impeachment committee begins interviews

A Student Government Senate impeachment committee will begin conducting interviews today as part of an investigation of Chief Justice Sarah Heikkinen.

The Senate held a special session Friday to discuss the procedures, all of which had to be unanimously approved, that the committee will follow throughout its investigation.

After reviewing the articles of impeachment, the committee chose to investigate four of five charges brought forward by Attorney General Cordell Chavis.

Among the four charges is Heikkinen’s alleged violation of the SG Code of Ethics and Finance Code during a trip to Washington, D.C., in January.

Heikkinen went on the trip, for which funding was approved by SG, as a representative of the Judicial Branch, but the articles of impeachment claim the main purpose of the trip was actually to attend the presidential inauguration.

SG statutes state that all funded trips must demonstrate proper justification of how they will directly improve the organization, the University or the state of Florida. The articles of impeachment claim that Heikinnen did not provide this evidence for the trip in question.

Heikkinen was also charged with an alleged failure to serve as an accountable officer of the Judicial Branch.

Heikkinen did not return calls to her cell phone or office phone by press time.

According to SG statutes, the chief justice is responsible for all fiscal records as the financially accountable officer of the court.

The charge states that Heikkinen was removed from this duty after allegedly failing to turn in time sheets for the Judicial Branch.

Another charge claims Heikkinen violated the Judicial Code of Ethics. During a March 5 meeting, Heikkinen allegedly refused to recuse herself from cases about which she had previously expressed a bias.

The articles of impeachment state that Heikkinen “berated” a respondent both in person and through e-mails on matters closely related to a case. SG statutes state that justices must perform their duties in a “dignified” and “unbiased” manner.

Heikkinen was also charged with violating the court’s rules of procedure when she allegedly failed to release a ruling of the court on time.

The impeachmentcommittee members — Senators Kelly Budnick, Sarah Greenberg and Khalid Hassouneh — voted against investigating a fifth charge of a violation of Florida and SG Sunshine Laws.

According to the charge, the court allegedly held a Feb. 26 meeting without public notice. The articles of impeachment state that it is the chief justice’s responsibility to ensure this takes place.

The committee members could not comment on the impeachment because of the ongoing investigation.

Hassouneh said the committee is only investigating the validity of the charges against Heikkinen, not deciding whether to impeach her.

The impeachment committee will present its findings in a report at the SG Senate meeting Tuesday, when the Senate can vote on whether to move forward with the impeachment.

If this occurs, the charges will be reviewed by a judicial review committee with half its members appointed by student body president Greg Morgan and half by senate president Juan Soltero.