The impeachment trial of Sen. Tim Sullivan will be postponed another week as the Undergraduate Student Government discusses and finalizes procedures for impeachment trials, which were previously not codified in the bylaws or constitution.
The CLAS senator was scheduled to go to trial before his fellow senators at Wednesday’s Senate meeting, as per the USG Constitution, for allegedly attempting to influence the vote of a Judiciary member. The trial was rescheduled for an emergency session of the Senate during the regular caucus on March 9 to allow senators to discuss and finalize the procedures.
This appointment was pushed back to an indeterminate date to allow for additional discussion of the procedure proposal. Senators did not receive the proposal until shortly before the session began Wednesday, which caused great division among those present.
There are only six scheduled USG meetings remaining in the spring semester after break to hold the trial, barring specially scheduled meetings. Speaker Colin Ng said the final session would not be used for the trial, leaving five in which to hold both the legislative session and trial.
Chief Justice Tyler Ryff said USG is currently in violation of its own bylaws by not holding the impeachment trial the week following the announcement.
“We really do need to work on this,” Ryff said. “You’re an able bodied Senate. If you’d like to make changes, go ahead. We are already in violation, let’s not push it.”
The legislation was proposed by Deputy Speaker George Wang and set up a procedure for impeachment trials that was modeled after the U.S. Senate and other peer institutions. No procedures for impeachment were written previously because any impeachment cases were resolved by the accused stepping down from office before trial, meaning such procedures were never needed, according to Ryff.
Bennett Cognato, elections oversight committee chairman and Daily Campus contributor, was one of the loudest voices advocating for postponing the discussion of the legislation. One of his major points of contention was over what could be considered evidence at an impeached senator’s trial.
“I’m not comfortable with the chair deciding on a case by case basis what is evidence and what isn’t,” Cognato said.
Many other senators had issues over what could and could not be submitted as evidence. Some referred to legal help websites to suggest clauses that would make the proceedings more fair and unbiased in what could be presented.
Cognato said someone outside the organization with experience in legal matters would be more qualified than the senators to organize their governing documents. He said he believed the senators could not make the decision about what evidence is legitimate for presentation.
“I think it comes down to us considering the weight of our actions in this room. If we’re passing a bill to support a piece of legislation in the state house, that’s based on ‘do we understand what the legislation is’ and ‘do we support it,’” Cognato said. “In terms of being here and having an impeachment hearing, that’s not something that really falls within the parameters of what we’ve been doing this year and last year.
He said once a policy was put in place and thoroughly vetted, senators would be qualified to hear it.
Arguments went back and forth for more than an hour about whether to vote on the bill that night or table it until it could be further discussed. Ideas from calling in an outside expert to showing the legislation to other student governments at the Conference on Student Government Association March 5 through 8 were proposed.
President Rachel Conboy, who was initially in favor of passing the bill that night, said she would veto the bill if the Senate passed it, ending discussion and essentially forcing senators to table it.
“It became apparent that it was an oversight by our leadership to put that up tonight because it is an important process and a hole in our document,” Conboy said. “It was very clear by the time I threatened to veto it that senators were not confident about putting this through and I want us to put something through that we’re confident about.”
The decision to table the bill was nearly unanimous, the only dissenting vote belonging to Daniel Byrd, external affairs chairman. Byrd said previously in the meeting that the Senate should stay until “one in the morning” if it meant passing the procedures.
Nicholas Shigo is associate news editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.