After Student Government senator Abdool Aziz withdrew his signature from a memo calling for the investigation of three Supreme Court justices based on claims of “bias,” “abuse of power,” threats and coercion, the process of impeachment became even more unclear after Aziz emailed SG advisers, saying he signed the memo under “duress.”
In an interview with The Oracle, in which SG senator Aziz was present but declined to comment, SG senator Evan Brown said he would speak on Aziz’s behalf to confirm Aziz’s statement, as Aziz did not “feel comfortable speaking at this time.”
Brown initially did not comment on the source of duress, but said it occurred off campus and came from “leadership” in the legislative and executive branches of SG.
While Senate President Shyam Patel denied previously knowing anything about the formation of the memo of impeachment, which Aziz co-signed with two other senators, Senate President Pro Tempore Adam Aldridge said he received the memo from Aziz on March 25 around 3 p.m. the day it was presented to the Senate.
Aldridge said he read the memo, which outlined more than 30 counts of ethics violations against three justices and their involvement in the hearing of Jean Cocco’s appeal of the Election Rules Committee’s (ERC) ruling to disqualify his candidacy.
When Aziz edited the memo for grammar errors and submitted hand-written signatures an hour later, Aldridge said there were no other people in the room and he did not see signs of coercion or duress.
Student body president William Warmke and vice president Scott Sandoval both denied knowing anything pertaining to the formation of the impeachment memo or any claims of duress or coercion of its signing.
In a later interview with The Oracle without the presence of Aziz, Brown said Aziz would not comment “out of fear of retribution,” but that Aziz told him ERC Supervisor of Elections Sayf Hassouneh coerced him into signing the impeachment memo.
Brown said Aziz said Hassouneh met with Aziz at a restaurant off campus, where he told Aziz of the presence of an unauthorized recording device that had been left in the Supreme Court office by Associate Justice Corey McCance, who wrote the dissenting court opinion in the Cocco v. ERC case that ruled in favor of Cocco.
Brown said Hassouneh said the recording contained a conversation between Aziz and members of the Supreme Court, and if Aziz did not sign the memo, the recording would be used against him to impeach him. Hassouneh also allegedly said the recording was given to him by McCance, and Brown said Hassouneh told Aziz he had duplicated the recording and distributed it to several members of SG.
On Tuesday, SG Chief Justice Bryan Buenaventura, one of the justices facing impeachment charges, informed Student Government of the presence of the illegally obtained recording and that Human Resources and Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities charges would be filed against McCance.
Buenaventura later told The Oracle he heard of the presence of the illegally obtained recording from the director of Student Government Advising, Training and Operations Gary Manka, to whom he said McCance gave the recording.
On Wednesday, Manka told The Oracle he had never seen the recording himself, but had heard of it, though it was “just a lot of students talking at this point.”
At a Supreme Court meeting Wednesday, Manka announced McCance had resigned.
Brown said Aziz said he didn’t know what was specifically on the recording, or who may have received it, but that “possibly five to 10 members of SG” could have received it.
McCance declined to comment on the recording or his resignation.
Hassouneh denied the allegations and questioned the validity of the sources of information.
He said he didn’t “recall” any meetings between himself and either McCance or Aziz after the Supreme Court ruling and before the impeachment memo was presented to the Senate.
“I wish I could, but my mind isn’t a steel trap and I can’t recall,” Hassouneh said.
He said he didn’t have any idea about the recording aside from what was presented at public meetings.
Hassouneh said he does meet with SG members, such as Aziz, Aldridge and Patel, occasionally off campus at places such as Applebee’s and IHOP, but said he couldn’t recall any specific discussions, aside from meeting with Patel at Gator’s Dockside this past weekend.
With Aziz’s request to withdraw his name from the impeachment memo, SG is waiting on a legal opinion from the SG Attorney General to see if the investigation of the court members can continue.
No legal decision was made as of Wednesday afternoon, however the Senate Impeachment Committee meeting is scheduled to have a meeting today at 7:30 p.m. in the SG Conference Room.
While the meeting is expected to include testimonies to the committee from several witnesses, the three members of the court being investigated have denied to give testimony until after a legal decision has been made.
“In light of the events that occurred during senate with (Aziz) withdrawing his support from the impeachment memo, I as well as the other (two) members feel uncomfortable proceeding any further until word gets back from general counsel,” Buenaventura wrote in an email to Committee Chair Masiel Pelegrino.
“I think you find it fair that something like this should be taken into consideration seeing that one of the members has withdrawn support into which the memo was based upon,” the email stated.
Pelegrino did not return a voicemail from The Oracle on Wednesday afternoon.