Judging justice


Just days after the Student Government (SG) Supreme Court’s hearing and 4-1 ruling against the ERC’s disqualification of student body presidential candidate Jean Cocco based on grievances, members of the SG Senate have requested the impeachment of three Supreme Court justices.

At the start of Tuesday’s Senate meeting, the formation of a Senate Impeachment Committee was added to the agenda.

Before members of the Senate voted each other into the committee, Senate President Pro Tempore Adam Aldridge read aloud a memo requesting the impeachment of Chief Justice Bryan Buenaventura, Senior Justice Daniel Shapiro and Ranking Justice Sammy Hamed.

The seven-page memo, filed by SG Senators Abdool Aziz, Zein Kattih and Andy Rodriguez, outlined more than 30 violations of the court, including accusations of “incompetence” and “abuse of power.”

“In summary, the Supreme Court leadership exhibited several violations listed above that illustrate the discussion to engineer the outcome of the Spring 2014 trial hearing of Jean Cocco v. ERC,” the memo stated. “In addition, the Supreme Court leadership members followed their discussions and acted upon them when deciding the trial.”

According to the allegations in the memo, the justices in question committed the violations in the days leading up to the trial. While Shapiro and Hamed recused themselves from participating in the Cocco hearing, they did not do so in the earlier parts of the process.

“The SG Supreme Court leadership violated (SG statute 503.8) by not recusing themselves earlier on the discussions of the upcoming trial,” the memo stated. “The information of reason for the recusal was not given until the day of trial and not beforehand where discussions occurred among themselves for weeks.”

Though multiple sources on the Court and Senate declined to comment on the need for recusal, the memo alleged the court “manifested bias,” “illegally discuss(ed) the results beforehand in a corrupt motive” and “already had the votes needed for the case to be in favor of Jean Cocco.”

Aziz, who is chair of the Judiciary and Ethics committee on SG, said he would not comment on the memo until after the impeachment process is complete, stating it “wouldn’t be appropriate.” Kattih was unavailable for comment and did not return a call to The Oracle on Tuesday evening.

Justices Buenaventura and Shapiro declined to comment on the issue Tuesday evening, but said they would be available for an interview today.

Associate Justice Corey McCance, who issued a dissenting opinion to the court’s majority ruling, said he conflicted with the justices in the days before the hearing. 

He said “anybody who has any legal knowledge” should know that being involved with any part of the process could bias the case.

In his dissenting opinion to last week’s ruling in favor of Cocco, McCance wrote the justices were involved in making the decision to hear the case and “offered opinions.”

“Those same justices, after offering their opinion, which may have swayed other justices’ decisions in granting Certiorari, voted rather than recusing from the proceedings,” he wrote in his opinion. “… It is no surprise that the majority, after starting down the wrong path, arrives at the wrong location.”

McCance declined to comment further on the specifics of the impeachment.

The memo also stated the justices tried to “force fellow justices to vote in a certain way,” use “their positions to sway the outcome of the trial in favor of one particular party,” and decided “Jean Cocco was the victor of the trial before it happened.”

Additionally, the memo stated the members of the Supreme Court worked together in writing the majority opinion, instead of following an SG rule that states they should select one member to write the opinion.

Cocco, who attended Tuesday’s Senate meeting, said no evidence of the allegations was presented to the Senate at the meeting and he was suspicious of the impeachment which was brought to the Senate after the trial, though the allegations were known before the trial.

He said the impeachment seemed connected to an “attack” on his campaign, and made the already long appeal process and student body elections that started over a month ago start to “seem personal.”

“The timing is weird… no one in Senate was expecting it,” he said.

Senators Masiel Pelegrino, Umar Abunamous and Carlos Manuel Romero were voted by Senate members onto the impeachment committee to investigate the process further.