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Senate votes to continue impeachment process

The Student Government Senate voted to continue the impeachment process of Chief Justice Sarah Heikkinen on two charges at a Senate meeting Tuesday after a review of recommendations in the Senate Impeachment Committee’s final report.

The first charge for impeachment involved a six-day January trip to Washington, D.C., taken by Heikkinen as well as seven justices and the clerk of the court.

The expense report for the trip states that it cost $3,500.42. The price included lodging, airfare, baggage fees and transportation expenses.

In reflection papers submitted to SG advisor Gary Manka, Heikkinen stated that the purpose of the trip was to visit American University, Georgetown University, Washington University and the U.S. Supreme Court. The only evidence provided for the students’ visits to these locations was a flier from Georgetown University.

The final committee report stated that the academic objective of the visit was to study the Academic Integrity Programs at these universities with an eye toward possibly incorporating such programs at USF.

The articles of impeachment, brought forward by Attorney General Cordell Chavis, claimed the trip had little to do with SG.

However, the Senate Impeachment Committee ruled this charge invalid, since the Academic Integrity Program is an actively pursued initiative of the court.

The charge also claimed that the real purpose of the trip, originally scheduled for Spring Break, was for SG members to attend the presidential inauguration.

 Hassouneh said that during the interview, Heikkinen claimed the reason for rescheduling and lengthening the trip was to make it “more feasible” and “cheaper.”

The Senate Impeachment Committee concluded that this was not proper justification for the date change and extension.

Moreover, on the travel itinerary for the trip, Jan. 20 — the date of the inauguration — was left blank, despite expenses that were funded in part by student A& S fees.

The Senate Impeachment Committee recommended impeachment based on this charge of misfeasance, or the performance of a lawful action in an illegal manner or with an improper motive.

The second charge against Heikkinen concerned her alleged refusal to recuse herself from a court case about which she had expressed bias.

The case in question concerned students’ failure to follow the Election Rules Committee (ERC) application process.

Since Heikkinen voiced her opinion on the ERC in an e-mail and proceeded to participate in a trial involving the ERC, the Senate Impeachment Committee concluded she acted in a biased manner  and recommended impeachment based on this charge of malfeasance.

Three other charges against Heikkinen were dismissed by the Senate, following Senate Impeachment Committee recommendations.

The dismissed charges included Heikkinnen’s alleged failure in her role as an accountable officer of the Judicial Branch, a charge of violation of Florida and SG Sunshine Laws after she held a meeting of the court without public notification, and her possible violation of the Court’s Rules of Procedure by not publishing the majority opinion of the court in a timely manner.

The majority opinion of the court was published March 12, within one calendar week of the hearing date in accordance with SG Statutes.

The charges will soon be reviewed by a judicial review committee, for which half the members will be appointed by student body president Greg Morgan and the other half by Senate president Juan Soltero.

The committee will decide whether to remove Heikkinen from her position as chief justice.

After the impeachment vote, Heikkinen declined comment.