A tale of two documents

The memo that called for the creation of an impeachment committee shows similarities to a trial request submitted to the Student Government Supreme Court, which has the judges under investigation worried. Oracle Photo/Adam Mathieu

The release of a trial request submitted by student body Vice President Michael Malanga and Student Government (SG) Chief Financial Officer Sandra Sawan Lara has raised some questions about the impeachment investigation currently surrounding four of the six SG Supreme Court justices, including Ranking Justice Milton Llinas and Associate Justice Chelsea Lo. 

In previous interviews with the Oracle, Chief Justice Lindsay Betros and Senior Justice Alec Waid talked about the — at points — verbatim wording found in the documents. 

The memo for impeachment was submitted by SG senators Megan Summers, Muhammad Imam, Aladdin Hiba and AlaEldean Elmunaier. However, Waid and Betros doubt the senators who signed the memo wrote it.

“The differences lie in the fact that malfeasance, misfeasance, nonfeasance, incompetence and abuse of power were put into the impeachment memo because of the relevance to the blanket allegations,” Waid said.

The trial request, Betros said, was recently released as a public record. Compared side by side, the documents have similarities not only in wording but in timing.

The trial request was submitted to the Court Oct. 27 at 4:21 p.m. while the memo was submitted on the same day at 5:50 p.m. The Senate meeting, during which the memo was introduced, started at 6 p.m.

The memo didn’t reach senators aside from its signees until after the meeting, which sparked efforts to postpone the creation of the committee, efforts that ultimately failed due to necessities in Senate procedure.

The wording between the two documents is at points verbatim, while other places contain either paraphrased or slightly reworded passages. The memo does contain original writing, but the majority of the content refers to the instances and particulars discussed in the trial request.

For example, point three of the trial request (paragraph four), contains 10 sentences, seven of which are reproduced either fully or partially in the impeachment memo and only one of those seven directly quoting SG statutes. The lead up to this quotation, however, was exactly the same in both documents.

In another case, two of five verbatim sentences in the seventh paragraph of the trial request contained direct quotations of SG statutes. As with the previous quotation, the setup was the same in the memo and the trial request. 

The sentences were not rearranged in either of these instances.

The impeachment memo contained at least 13 verbatim reproductions from the trial memo. Page five of the memo has at least one such instance in every paragraph except one.

“This shows clear collusion in an effort to attack the judicial branch,” Waid said. “This type of language doesn’t happen on accident.”

“We’re (going to) notice these things,” Betros said.

Malanga said this is because the trial is based on the same allegations and the meetings where the alleged violations took place. The two groups noticed similar things, he said. 

“My trial isn’t about their impeachment, my trial is about denial of due process, but … I think that is the reason it’s (probably) similar,” Malanga said. “(The request) became public record (at) the moment I handed it in, and it was open to the public so I’m assuming that the senators had the opportunity to view it prior (to) submitting their impeachment letter.”

When asked whether or not he thought it would be required for the senators to cite direct quotations from the trial request, he said he didn’t think so. Malanga said he saw the memo at about the time it was submitted.

“I don’t think they need to cite it,” Malanga said. “(The trial request is) not an authored work, it’s just a … public document that got submitted and I think they had access to it.”

Betros, however, disagreed, saying the signature of the senators is them claiming the work as their own when it clearly borrows from the trial request.

She said these similarities will be presented as evidence by the accused justices during the impeachment investigations.

The charges against the justices include malfeasance, misfeasance, nonfeasance, incompetence and abuse of power, and the memo refers to two separate meetings concerning the Declaratory Judgement Panel (DJP) and the Judicial Review Panel (JRP).

The first is the Oct. 20 meeting of the DJP, a meeting not mentioned in the trial request. The Court decided to both hear and make a ruling on the question “‘Does the 9th Amendment refer to a student’s USF system GPA or their overall GPA?’” per the memo. 

This decision, the memo states, was outside the Court’s constitutional limits, and “demonstrates incompetence in discharging their duties as members of the (DJP) and misfeasance in the actions taken by the (DJP).” In this case, “incompetence” refers to being unqualified for duty, and “misfeasance” refers to making a legal act in an illegal way.

The Court was also said to have violated Title II Sunshine laws by deliberating in secret, which Betros and Waid both said is part of the deliberative secrecy doctrine that aims to protect judges from political pressure during deliberations. 

“No Court ever in the history of the (U.S.) has ever had their deliberations (made) public,” Betros said. “It’s to protect the integrity of the justices and the right to freely speak our minds without fear of political ramifications, so that’s why it’s such a sensitive topic for justices. 

“When you hear about a Supreme Court case, … you don’t hear about their justice’s deliberations. You hear about the trial proceedings — they’re open to the public — and you read the opinions. We’ve worked in the same way.”

Finally, the memo said the DJP “broke statutes by mandating ‘further action’ in the ruling,” which purported to show abuse of power. 

This complaint was lodged against Betros, Waid and Lo.

The next instance in question concerned the Oct. 23 meeting of the JRP where a request calling for the removal of specific statutes that affected the composition of the Activity and Service Free Recommendation Committee (ASRC) was heard. 

The charges associated with this incident concerned Betros, Waid and Llinas. The memo — as well as the trial request — cited Article IV, Section I of the SG Constitution, which said the power of the Court is “‘to declare any act of the Student Government Association unconstitutional.’”

Since an “act” is defined by Statute 103.4 as “‘A bill that has completely and successfully gone through the legislative procedure,’” the Court was acting out of its jurisdiction by ruling specific sections unconstitutional, according to the memo.

“This demonstrates incompetence in discharging their duties as members of the (JRP) and misfeasance in the actions taken by the Panel,” the memo stated. 

In a section bearing heavy resemblance to the trial request, the memo said Betros did not release the agenda or public notice for the meeting until 1:27 p.m. for a meeting scheduled for 2:30 p.m. 

“Because of this, members of the executive branch and functional group, who were being effected were not given the opportunity to be heard and defend their stance to the Court,” the memo said in a sentence almost exactly identical to one in the trial request.

The memo said this showed nonfeasance, incompetence, nonfeasance — not doing something that is legally or officially required — and lack of due process.

In a paragraph mostly taken from the trial request, the memo said the justices showed incompetence, as they “did not fully understand ASRC or the ramifications that their decisions would carry.”

The ramifications of the decision included the removal of Malanga and Sawan Lara from their seats on the committee, as stated in the trial request.

Waid said he has a full understanding of ASRC, as he was previously on the committee as a senator. Llinas also said he sat through the spring ASRC meetings as a senator. 

The memo claimed misfeasance and incompetence again in the fact that the Court doesn’t have the power to change the composition of ASRC. According to Statute 601.5, making that change requires a supermajority vote of the Senate. 

The final claim in the memo, also borrowing from the trial request, was the need for Llinas to recuse himself, as the request was submitted by Llinas’ roommate. 

“Due to the failure to disclose such information, all parties were not given relevant information to the question of recusal,” the memo and trial request stated.

The memo cited this as evidence of nonfeasance, misfeasance and abuse of power, which is exerting power to influence other SG members.

The memo does not mention the trial request as a source or inspiration.

Sawan Lara and Summers both declined to comment, while Hiba, Imam and Elmunaier could not be reached for comment.