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Confusion surrounds SGA Judicial Review Board hearing

By Kirk Bado and Will Hadden.

Editor’s Note: The Vision interviewed multiple members from SGA congress and the Judicial Review Board and pored over two official versions of the SGA constitution for this report.

The Student Government Association’s Judicial Review Board may have acted inappropriately itself when it ruled that SGA President Jeanette Morelan violated the group’s constitution.

On Jan. 26, the Judicial Review Board held a hearing to decide if Morelan acted unconstitutionally in not passing along a resolution demanding a written clarification of university President Bob Fisher’s comments at the Vision 2020 Town Hall last semester.

The ruling was used as the basis for the impeachment proceedings against Morelan.

According to multiple sources on the board, the only evidence presented at the hearing was a short email statement from Morelan, the resolution itself and the SGA constitution.

No outside witnesses were called. Morelan was not present. No additional documents were examined. The board’s own chairman was absent and SGA’s adviser was not told of the hearing nor was she present.

Cole Thannisch, a member of the Judicial Review Board, said that outside sources were not necessary when making the ruling.

“If outside information is necessary or essential in order for us to make a fair decision, I feel as though it is up to the people with that information to present it to us,” Thannisch said.

However, freshman representative Jade Cooper, who led the hearing, said if the investigation were more thorough, the board could have reached a different decision.

“Looking back, there should have been someone there who was more educated on the situation. There should have been outside witnesses,” said Cooper. “I think if we would have had a more thorough review it would have been split. It could have changed it from being unanimous.”

Cooper, who is a first-year representative, sat in for Braden Stover, a second-year representative and chair of Policy Review. There is no procedure in the constitution that outlines what happens if the chair cannot attend a hearing.

According to the SGA constitution, the chair of policy review also acts as the head of the JRB and oversees the hearings. This means Stover would be constitutionally required to oversee the meeting and ensure that procedures are followed as outlined in the constitution.

Because he had to work, Stover said “the chair of the committee chooses someone to fill that role. The chair is just there to make sure things run smoothly.”

He chose a freshman who had never been on the committee before.

“Looking back, as a freshman, I was uninformed on what I was told to do,” Cooper said.

According to the JRB ruling, the six voting members who were present unanimously found Morelan in violation of the constitution because she did not “present a resolution passed on November 17th, 2014 to the President of the University or any other member of Upper Administration and/or Senior Leadership.”

In matters such as this, the board needs five of nine voting members present to pass a judgment on constitutional interpretation, according to SGA’s own rules.

The constitution also stipulates that “if an individual selected from (sic) review chooses not to attend his/her hearing then the judges will vote upon the member’s status without a formal hearing process.”

Thannisch said the JRB only met once on this specific ruling and that it was a hearing.

Since it was a hearing, the constitution clearly outlines the procedure that must be followed.

This includes having the member under review give a rebuttal to the charges, answer questions from the board and have all documents be recorded and turned into a comprehensive case study after compilation. No case study has been made available.

Thannisch said the one page report that the JRB presented to congress constituted as a study. There were no documents presented nor did it include any specific constitutional provisions broken by Morelan.

“Due to conflicting schedules and the fact that we only need to meet when an issue arises, similar to how the United States Supreme Court works, the JRB is not strictly assigned meeting times and we try and discuss and decide as efficiently as possible,” Thannisch said.

Morelan was notified about the hearing on Jan. 22, but could not attend the hearing due to her work schedule. Instead, she emailed a short statement to the board defending herself, which was distributed to each member and read before the meeting, said Thannisch.

“I had also asked her a couple questions regarding the timeline of events via text during the meeting,” he said.

Thannisch said Sara Stacy, SGA’s student adviser, was told about the meeting and when and where it would take place.

Stacy, however, said she was not told about the meeting until after the fact. Additionally, the JRB is required to provide SGA’s adviser with the minutes as soon as possible following the meeting’s adjournment, which she was not.

Stacy has told Policy Review that change in the JRB is needed and the meeting should have been rescheduled since the chair and Morelan were not present, she said.

“One of the biggest changes I’d like to ask for is to make sure that each person can come in, and to bring in people who can provide context to the situation, as well as the adviser,” she said.

The JRB did not reach out to senior leadership either on the matter, Stover said, because it’s understood that the job of contacting administration falls to the executive cabinet.

With the dust settling and reform being discussed, Thannisch said the confusion has made the JRB less transparent. Transparency has been a key issue with SGA this semester including dealings with Vision 2020, senior leadership and the impeachment proceedings against Morelan.

“I suppose that word has been thrown around a lot, and I don’t really know if anyone really knows the definition of it,” Thannisch said.

Grayson Hester contributed to this report.

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