SG committee begins court impeachment process
Within the first few minutes of the Senate Impeachment Committee’s gathering on Monday afternoon, Student Government (SG) senators voted to begin the official investigation process of several SG Supreme Court members.
At the meeting, senators discussed the impeachment memo presented to the SG Senate last week, outlining more than 30 violations of ethics and SG statutes that were allegedly committed by SG Supreme Court justices Bryan Buenaventura, Daniel Shapiro and Sammy Hamed.
The actions in question stemmed from the Supreme Court case that heard Jean Cocco’s appeal of the Election Rules Commission’s (ERC) grievance rulings that disqualified Cocco’s candidacy for student body president.
In a 3-0 vote, the committee members decided to pursue the impeachment, which made claims against the justices, including “abuse of power,” “incompetence,” “manifested bias” and discussed the case “in a corrupt motive.”
Both Shapiro and Hamed recused themselves from the case because they said they were friends with Cocco and thus had a conflict of interest in the case, but remained involved in early pre-hearing proceedings. Hamed said he was also a friend of Cocco’s opposition in the election, Brandi Arnold.
Discussing whether to pursue the impeachment against the justices and the investigation of all the claims outlined in a seven-page memo, committee member Carlos Manuel Romero said it is the committee’s duty to look into all the allegations.
In the ERC’s appeal to the Dean for Students of the Court’s ruling on Cocco’s appeal, affidavits were submitted that referenced an alleged conversation between the three justices outside of official meetings that involved bribery, threats and “swaying” the vote in favor of Cocco.
“Usually you don’t make claims like this out of thin air,” Romero said.
In an interview with The Oracle, however, Hamed said the committee meeting had an “atmosphere of unprofessionalism,” the claims made against him and the court had “no credibility whatsoever” and the allegations were “malicious.”
Hamed also said jokes were made before, during and after the meeting. At the meeting, which started 10 minutes late, a senator on the impeachment committee requested to use SG funds to provide refreshments for the meeting.
“When my job is on the line, I’d appreciate more professionalism on this matter,” Hamed said.
Last week, the committee met for its first meeting, when the members voted for an adviser to oversee the impeachment proceedings. The meeting was shortly adjourned, however, when members said they did not have quorum, as the adviser they voted on – Jessica Morgan, an SG Advising, Training and Operations graduate adviser – was not present.
Though Romero and the committee members found enough credibility in the memo to investigate further, he recommended the committee work quickly to understand the matter.
But not all saw it that way.
“(Romero) said something to the effect of, ‘Rather than take a more measured approach, let’s just blow through this as fast as possible,'” Shapiro said. “That’s very concerning to me.”
Following the decision to officially begin investigating the justices, the committee decided on a list of potential witnesses to give testimony and a list of public records they would request to investigate the matter.
The list of witnesses includes the three accusers – SG senators Abdool Aziz, Zein Kattih and Andy Rodriguez – who filed the impeachment memo, all seven Supreme Court justices and the court’s clerk, members from campaigns for both Cocco and Arnold, as well as current student body president William Warmke, Senate President Shyam Patel and Senate President Pro Tempore Adam Aldridge.
“Everything that surrounds this involves the election and those involved,” Romero said.
Though Romero said he requested testimony from Patel and Aldridge because he assumed “anyone who spends a lot of time in the SG office… would most likely have witnessed anything,” Hamed said he was skeptical of what benefit they would add to the investigation.
Hamed said he was especially skeptical of the request for Warmke, who is in the same fraternity as Arnold’s running mate, Shaheen Nouri.
“This is an inquisition on the basis of no evidence whatsoever,” Shapiro said. “… I have no illusions that I will receive a fair trial.”
While the only records the committee agreed to request are emails between the Supreme Court judges and the candidates after the trial, they discussed using affidavits from evidence submitted in the ERC’s appeal to the Dean for Students of the ruling to dismiss grievances against Cocco.
Committee member Masiel Pelegrino directly acknowledged the existence of the affidavits and that they were mentioned in an article in The Oracle last week, but was told by Aldridge during the meeting that the documents in question were part of the ERC’s appeal and not yet part of any evidence submitted to him or the committee.
“I’m concerned (Pelegrino) read information in the media, and is taking bias and outside information into account,” Hamed said.
Witnesses requested by the committee are expected to give their statements to the committee at the end of this week.