Investigations regarding the impeachment of four Student Government (SG) Supreme Court Justices have yet to start, but claims by both sides are already starting to surface.
Tuesday’s Senate meeting saw the creation of a committee to investigate allegations against four Supreme Court judges. Chief Justice Lindsay Betros, Senior Justice Alec Waid, Ranking Justice Milton Llinas and Associate Justice Chelsea Lo were accused of malfeasance, misfeasance, nonfeasance, incompetence and abuse of power in a memo proposed by senators Megan Summers, Muhammad Imam, Aladdin Hiba and AlaEldean Elmunaier.
The Oracle obtained a copy of the memo from a member of SG.
However, the nature of the allegations are different based on which side is telling the story.
The memo cited incidents from Declaratory Judgement Panel (DJP) and Judicial Review Panel (JRP) meetings that it said reflected an overstepping of boundaries by the Court in an attempt to expand its jurisdiction, as well as violations of transparency laws.
One such instance was a DJP meeting Oct. 20 where, the memo said, “the members of the (DJP) knowingly and purposefully went outside of the statutorily granted powers to the Court by issuing a ruling on an issue not pertaining to Student Government Statutes with the intention of expanding the influence of the Court beyond its constitutional limits.”
The question the Court was discussing, according to the memo, was “Does the (ninth) Amendment refer to a student’s USF system GPA or their overall GPA?” which the memo claimed the Court did not have jurisdiction in answering, as the Court can only deal with matters concerning constitutionality.
“I don’t agree that the Court went out of its jurisdiction for any requests that we have received,” Betros said. “There (have) been instances this semester where we’ve denied requests because they are out of our jurisdiction, but these requests that were made were in our jurisdiction to render rulings on.”
Waid said, in terms of the GPA case, the request was submitted by Attorney General Richard LaMura. A similar issue occurred when LaMura requested an opinion on another issue that is now being determined as not in the Court’s grounds.
LaMura declined to comment.
“This is a decision that I have made in an effort to ensure that I can serve the Student Body without bias. I will say that I am dedicated to ensuring that the rights of the accused are protected and that a fair process is followed,” he said in an email to The Oracle.
The memo also stated the Court was in violation of Title II Sunshine Law requirements, as they deliberated in private, which the memo said created an environment that allowed influence of other Justices’ opinions.
Keeping deliberations private, according to Waid, is part of a doctrine called deliberative secrecy, which allows courts to do deliberations in private in order to avoid any political pressures.
The memo also talks about meetings by the JRP on Friday concerning the Activity and Service Fee Recommendation Committee (ASRC). Allegations in the memo include not understanding ASRC and attempting to “change the composition of the committee” by declaring its composition unconstitutional. Composition of ASRC can only be changed by “a supermajority vote of the (SG) Senate,” according to Title V of the Senate statute 601.5, per the memo.
The Court’s opinion on ASRC is the one Waid feels SG leadership has the biggest problem with. Waid said Student Body Vice President Mike Malanga was placed on ASRC due to a bill Malanga helped push through the Senate earlier this year — a bill that made him chair, which was among the acts of the executive branch the Court deemed unconstitutional.
“They mention in their memo that the Justices were incompetent because they don’t understand ASRC so they can’t make that opinion,” Waid said. “However, as a senator, I served on ASRC and I played a role in that opinion.”
The memo also directly quoted a statement made at the JRP meeting and called it incorrect. That quote, Waid and Betros said, was taken from a recording of the meeting by Student Body President Andy Rodriguez. The group — which included Senate President Kristen Truong, Senate President Pro-Tempore Danish Hasan, Malanga and two other senators — also recorded the DJP meeting held the same day.
“The six of them came into our deliberations and pulled out a (recorder). They applied political pressures where political pressures are supposed to be nonexistent,” Waid said. “(It’s) another overreach of power, and they stayed the entire meeting.”
According to Betros, the party stated they were recording the meeting for their own purposes and gave no further explanation. The Court has requested that audio recording and has yet to receive it, both Justices said.
“They are trying to create an argument against us solely out of disagreement (with) that opinion,” Waid said.
All of the opinions of the Court are public record and can be requested at any time, Betros said. Opinions must be requested via email, as the judicial documents posted are not up to date.
Rodriguez confirmed he, Malanga, Truong and Hasan were in attendance at Friday’s meetings along with two senators whose identities Rodriguez said he didn’t remember. He said he wanted the audio for his own records and announced during open forum he was recording the meeting for accuracy. Hasan said Rodriguez was the only one of the six recording and he attended the meeting of his own accord, not at the request of Rodriguez.
When asked if he thought this violated deliberative secrecy, he said he felt it was not his place to comment. Rodriguez said all individuals involved came of their own accord and this was not collusion between the two branches.
Rodriguez also said Waid and Betros’ interpretation of Hasan’s going to speak with him during the discussion of the impeachment committee was not accurate.
Hasan confirmed this saying he talked to Rodriguez about his questions about parliamentary procedure. He said the legislative experts on the procedure are Senators Hiba and Elmunaier, both involved in sponsoring the memo, so he didn’t feel comfortable going to them with his questions.
Rodriguez said he advised Truong and Hasan from his experience as Senate president last year. As far as claims against him go, he said they are just claims.
“I don’t know that it’s necessarily my place to get involved in the impeachment but what I can say is that I think that the processes that we have outlined within our constitution and our statutes are there for a reason,” Rodriguez said. “As one of the main representatives of (SG), I don’t think it is my place to get involved in hearsay or slander of any sort.
“People are going to be angry during impeachment,” Rodriguez said. “That’s the nature of the process and I can’t help it.”
A similar argument came from Betros in reference to the claims against the judges in question.
“All the claims that are being made on the memo of impeachment are exactly that. They’re claims, no merit to them,” Betros said.
Waid and Betros both said the wording of the memo was almost identical to the wording of a trial request submitted by Malanga prior to the Senate meeting. A request for that trial request is currently pending. Hasan, who received the memo regarding the creation of the impeachment committee, said he has not seen that trial request.
Hasan said he did not feel comfortable commenting on collusion claims between the legislative and executive branches.
Truong declined to comment.
“(Due) to the questions regarding Senior Justice Waid’s comments and whether they comply with the below Student Government Statutes I would prefer to wait until the legal proceedings have occurred before commenting,” Malanga said in an email to The Oracle.
In the email Malanga quoted SG Senate Statute 503.6.7: “A Justice shall not make any public comment about a pending or impending proceeding in the Supreme Court, and a Justice shall not make any non-public comment that might interfere with a fair trial or hearing. The Justice shall require a similar abstention on the part of Supreme Court personnel subject to the Justice’s direction and control.”
Speaking as a student who feels that his rights have been violated and referring to legislative procedures, Waid said the statute is irrelevant. In terms of his discussion of trials, Waid said he simply discussed the content of the trials, not their proceedings.
“They’ve created a hostile environment (in SG),” Waid said.
However, Hasan has denied the hostility and said the current complications stem from impeachment proceedings. However, former SG Senator Kyla Wyatt said she has experienced hostility in SG firsthand. She was a volunteer senator and said she loved it, but once she became a paid SG employee, she saw a change in her work environment.
“Instead of being guided (in my work), I would get threatened. Or if I wanted to do something my way and someone didn’t agree with it, they would try to go … behind my back and have it done anyway,” Wyatt said. “These were people who … I (looked up) to more because they had more experience in Senate than I did.”
She had no complaints against the people in Student Government Advising, Training & Operations. She became frustrated, however, when she became a committee chairwoman and was denied the ability to change the time of her committee meetings due to an academic schedule conflict.
“They said they’d rather have my vice chair sit in for every single one of my committees than to allow me to change it,” Wyatt said.
She felt students were not being prioritized and was no longer comfortable being in charge and accountable for a committee whose meetings she couldn’t attend for academic reasons. Wyatt stepped down at the end of the summer.
While she did not feel comfortable disclosing names of those who threatened her, she said it happened between different members of Senate leadership.
Wyatt said she wondered why four people are getting impeached without some other reason behind it. The judges, she said, were hired and confirmed by the executive and legislative branches of SG.
“If they really are that type, then how did they fool everyone into getting into that?” Wyatt said.
She said she finds it suspicious the majority of the Court is under question.
“Of course there might be a time where one member of the Court will have their actions come up into question and that’s to be expected,” Wyatt said. “If we never questioned anyone’s actions, then there would never be any accountability. But to have all four members (of the Court) all at the same time, all doing the same exact thing, I mean, what purpose would that even be for? What are (the accusers) trying to plan?”
Wyatt said when she was only a volunteer senator, she loved it and thought it was one of the best things she’s ever been in. But once she moved to a paid position, she said she felt the pressure.
Waid and Betros also said they feel the pressure. The two are hopeful that the committee will be unbiased and do its job. But as far as Betros is concerned, the Court will continue to do its job in the meantime.