A request for the impeachment of three Student Government (SG) Supreme Court justices left many senators confused and seeking answers at Tuesday’s Senate meeting.
While a committee to investigate the allegations, which included “bias” and “abuse of power,” was formed and a seven-page document outlining more than 30 violations of ethics and SG statutes was read aloud to the Senate, the basis of the allegations, related to the early phases of last week’s Court hearing between Jean Cocco and Election Rules Commission (ERC), remained unclear.
Public records indicate, however, that in an appeal to the Supreme Court’s ruling from head of the ERC and Supervisor of Elections Sayf Hassouneh to Dean for Students Michael Freeman, the justices may have been involved in acts of bribery, coercion and more, stemming from an alleged conversation that took place before the hearing last week.
The memo requesting the impeachment of Chief Justice Bryan Buenaventura, Senior Justice Daniel Shapiro and Ranking Justice Sammy Hamed, filed by SG senators Abdool Aziz, Zein Kattih and Andy Rodriguez, further includes claims of “abuse of power,” “incompetence” and “malfeasance.”
“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.”
Last week, the Supreme Court hearing took place when Cocco appealed violations assessed to his campaign by the ERC that ultimately disqualified his candidacy despite earning the most number of votes in the general and runoff elections. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Cocco, stating the ERC failed to apply “the proper burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt” and unconstitutionally conflicted with the campaign’s due process. The court also found “considerable truth” in Cocco’s claims of “bias within the ERC.”
It is the court, however, that Hassouneh said was biased in his appeal of the case to Dean for Students Michael Freeman.
Hassouneh’s appeal to the dean included two affidavits describing a conversation that took place before the trial, which included the three justices waiting impeachment and Aziz. Aziz described the conversation in one affidavit, while Associate Justice Corey McCance did so in the other.
In McCance’s affidavit, he said the alleged discussion occurred on March 5 after the meeting to decide to hear the case, in which he asked any justices who may have bias to recuse themselves from any further proceedings regarding this hearing. No justices did so, but when he later stepped out to make a call, he overheard the meeting.
“During this meeting, Daniel Shapiro explained that he would be in control of the court’s votes to ensure a win for Jean Cocco,” McCance wrote on the affidavit. “… After explaining that (Shapiro and Hamed) would recuse … in order to give plausible deniability to any thoughts of conspiracy.
McCance wrote that Shapiro said Hassouneh should “know better than to think he could (win) a trial with us” and didn’t “stand a chance.” The discussion also focused on planning the votes of other justices, namely associate justices Michael Kalmowicz and Lindsay Betros, who were “guaranteed” and “wouldn’t go against us.”
McCance wrote that, at a later meeting, he “was met with hostility” with “slanderous and aggressive” comments.
“Shapiro then, in my opinion, offered me a bribe by stating that he ‘has a lot to offer me and all I’m asking is for your loyalty on this matter.’ When I refused (Shapiro stated) ‘You need to remember I have a lot of friends and that things you do on campus can effect things that happen to you off campus,” McCance wrote.
After McCance said he went to a SG Advising, Training and Operations advisor and the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities, where he was told “nothing could be done” until after the hearing, he said “the justice took down an hid multiple gift receipt to them on behalf of Jean Cocco [sic]” to which Buenaventura, Hamed and Shapiro admitted to, according to McCance’s affidavit.
While McCance declined to comment on additional specifics of the impeachment, he said in an interview with The Oracle the deliberations with the justices after Cocco’s hearing were the “roughest” conversations he has had with the justices.
In his affidavit, Aziz said Shapiro and Hamed said they “had the votes” to rule in favor of Cocco, who Shapiro allegedly said he was friends with.
“The leadership talked about delaying the trial to enable a selection of last resort,” Aziz wrote on the affidavit. “They mentioned selection of last resort could occur by delaying the trial with 300 pages of evidence. Therefore, the thoughts expressed by the court leadership clearly indicate a plan to coordinate the trial’s outcome. I choose to bring this to … light voluntarily.”
Aziz, chair of SG’s Judiciary and Ethics committee, declined to comment further about the impeachment, his relationship with any of the justices or candidates who ran in the student body election, his professional experience with any justices or any of his day-to-day duties in SG in an interview with The Oracle.
Kattih also declined to comment.
Buenaventura and Hamed declined to comment to The Oracle, but said they had not yet received any notice from the Senate about the impeachment. Shapiro said this “violated the justices’ due process,” and declined to comment further.
The time for the impeachment coincides with Hassouneh’s appeal of the Court’s ruling to the Dean for Students, an appeal that was ruled against by the Dean. After last semester’s mid-term elections, Hassouneh also lost a case in the Supreme Court regarding his authority to rule on cases regarding constitutional amendments.
While McCance voted in favor of the other judges in last semester’s decision against the ERC, he was the only dissenting opinion in Cocco’s case.
In an interview with The Oracle, Cocco described his relationship with the justices as “cordial and collegiate” and that he “was friends” with Shapiro and Hamed.
Cocco said he could not “comment on the words issued from another person,” but felt the impeachment was an “attack on the court” that coincided with last week’s ruling against the ERC, and he “questioned the agenda” of those involved.
“Why aren’t they questioning the integrity of the other justices who also voted in favor of my campaign?” he said. “They came up with their own decisions.”
In an interview with The Oracle, student body president William Warmke said he didn’t know the relationship between Cocco and the justices, but said he saw Shapiro and Hamed with Cocco at the Wawa convenience store near campus. Cocco said he vaguely recalled an instance like that at Wawa at the end of last semester, but not this semester.
Senate President Pro Tempore Adam Aldridge said that, while the Supreme Court judges are under investigation by the Senate, the justices will “hold business as usual” and there is not a definite timeline on the impeachment process.
“There are a lot individual ideas of upholding integrity within SG, but they may conflict,” Aldridge said. “All SG aims to uphold integrity for students.”
Members of the Senate Impeachment Committee had not met to investigate the matter as of Wednesday afternoon.