The IUSB Vision Weblog

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Judicial Council Ruling Removes Senator

Posted by iusbvision on January 14, 2007

Technically the score is SGA: 1, Erkki KochKetola: 1. Unfortunately for the defendant, a Judicial Council trial tends to be more like boxing than any other sport, and the sole legal blow has led to KochKetola’s  knockout from the ring of the Senate.

Two charges were filed in the case of the Student Government Association versus Senator Erkki KochKetola. The first charge of the violation of the Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities and Conduct via harassment of Chief Justice Charles F. Norton resulted in an acquittal under the reasoning that the IUSB Office of Judicial Affairs – as opposed to the SGA’s Judicial Council – holds the authority to decide on such matters. The second charge of failure to follow the spirit of the IUSB SGA Constitution resulted in a conviction by the Judicial Council, resulting in the dismissal of Senator KochKetola from the SGA.

In the ruling of the Judicial Council, two specific sections comprised the conviction on this charge of failure to follow the spirit of the Constitution. The first of these sections was the clause in the constitution that “All decisions of the Judicial Council shall be final and go into effect immediately”. In this context, the charge was that Mr KochKetola dissented with a previous ruling, in a manner that undermined the authority of the Judicial Council.

Statements from the IUSB Vision Weblog by Mr KochKetola were quoted in the trial and in the ruling, disputing the ruling of the previous case of KochKetola v. Vigil. In addition, an email to the Judicial Council by Mr KochKetola stated that the decision was “null and void”, which was specifically quoted as part of the reasoning for the conviction.

The second section of the conviction revolved around accusations that Mr KochKetola voted against the appointment of Chief Justice Norton in a manner which constituted discrimination based on political beliefs. The ruling was based on a combination of testimony from an unnamed witness and Mr KochKetola’s voting in opposition to Chief Justice Norton and Justice Sherin Raval. The witness stated that Mr KochKetola was against Chief Justice Norton’s appointment “because of his mind games and political beliefs” and that he was of the opinion that Mr Norton’s political stance could affect his decisions.

Mr KochKetola disputes the ruling, considering it an attempt by the SGA to limit his right to free speech. In an e-mail interview with the Vision, he said, “I believe the ruling was intended to muzzle me. I have been outspokenly critical of the Judicial Council and of other SGA officers… I believe this sets a very dangerous precedent.” Chief Prosecutor Teresa Santos and President Marcus Vigil in interviews said that the actions of the defendant crossed the boundaries of how a senator can dissent.  “It does demonstrate that it is possible to take things too far,” said President Vigil.

The charges were filed following an email to members of the SGA from an IUSB alumnus stating that then Senator KochKetola’s statements about the Judicial Council could undermine the employment opportunities of an IUSB alumnus. While no further information is available as to whether this risk was eventually realized, 7 of the 12 senators signed a petition on 31 October 2006 requesting the Judicial Council to determine if charges should be filed. The trial was held the 8 December 2006, with Senator Teresa Santos as Head Prosecutor, and Mr Cole Belt as counsel for the defendant. Justice Joe Spencer was appointed Acting Chief Justice when Chief Justice Norton recused himself from the case.

While the case has resulted in his dismissal as a senator, Mr KochKetola said to the Vision that he will “seek whatever remedies that are available”, and a rematch in the ring of university politics may indeed be in IUSB’s future.

Dissent or the nature of dissent?

The ruling, especially in the area of Mr KochKetola’s comments on the IUSB Weblog, bring questions of the limitations of freedom of speech in the context of disagreements with the SGA. Acting Chief Justice Spencer, in an e-mail interview, said that while there would never be action taken that would limit freedom of speech of students, the role of a senator creates certain limitations.  Calling Mr KochKetola’s stance a “childish position when representing the view points of the student body”, he said that this was behavior unfit for the role of a senator. “Though (Senator KochKetola) claims to want separation of powers and a stricter due process, here he is also demanding that his view points, as a member of the legislative body, be used to make law through the Judiciary, and he would not rest until this happened.”

Erkki KochKetola seemed to have the same opinion of the Judicial Council, that “The student body should be alert that they (the Judicial Council) consider themselves a law unto themselves.”  describing his comments as being “outspokenly critical” of the Judicial Council and other SGA officers, said that the decision of the Judicial Council limited the right of freedom of speech of senators. “I believe that this sets a very dangerous precedent, in that it allows future SGA members to be removed from office for being outspoken about their disagreements”.

Head Prosecutor Santos, in an interview with the Vision, said that it was not only the existence of dissent, but the nature of the dissent which resulted in charges being filed. In the ruling of the Judicial Council, Mr KochKetola was quoted as using words such as “I have little patience for bull****”, and that the Judicial Council “botched” the previous decision. Prosecutor Santos said, “If he had spoken in a reasonable way, the charges may not have been filed. There is a reasonable way to handle things and an unreasonable way to handle things.”
Mr KochKetola stated that while the tone of his statements may have been strident, he asserted his right to free speech. “It likely exacerbated the problem, and I think that it was unnecessarily harsh, but I stand by my right to express these opinions.” He added that he was given no warning that his actions would lead to legal repercussions. “I believed I was legitimately exercising my rights to free speech and due process.”

The arena of politics

While the SGA is inherently a political system, the Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities holds political beliefs as a protected class.  When asked about whether a distinction should be made between discrimination on the basis of political beliefs and basing a vote on a person’s ability to set aside political beliefs, Acting Chief Justice Joe Spencer replied, “Yes… the nondiscrimination policy does not apply to someone’s character. Where we disagree is what kind of character Chief Justice Charles Norton has. I have seen him only act in a professional manner while acting as a justice.”

To the same question, Mr KochKetola replied, “My decision to vote against the appointment of Chuck Norton was not based on discrimination of political beliefs. If that had been the case, then I would have voted against Ms. Reusser’s elevation to Vice President, Mrs Renfrow’s appointment to the fifth Justice seat, and Ms Muncie’s appointment to the Senate. I have a clear voting record of voting for people whose political beliefs I know to differ from my own.”

A conservative bias?

When asked whether the decision could be construed as an example of a conservative bias, Mr KochKetola replied instead, “I believe that it’s an example of a Student Government which has been poorly led and poorly supervised and which… has abridged the rights of one of its members.” Acting Chief Justice Spencer said that he is personally not a conservative, and that the politics was not a factor in the decision of the Council.  He said, “Though there may be a conservative bias on campus… we would never make a decision based on a political bias. Individuals may err, but that is why there were four justices, who came together and made a unanimous decision.”

Constitutional grey areas

Chief Prosecutor Teresa Santos, in relating the chronology of the events leading to this ruling, said that Acting Chief Justice was appointed by Chief Justice Norton who recused himself from the proceedings. The question which arises is if the person who is recusing himself appoints the successor, what is the point of recusing oneself? Addressing this apparent conflict of interest, SGA President Marcus Vigil in a telephone interview said that no specific provisions exist for this situation, and that “in moments of ambiguity, it is up to the branch itself how to handle it.” President Vigil also mentioned that the key factor was that Chief Justice Norton removed himself from a voting capacity, and that the main role of the Acting Chief Justice was keeping an order to the proceedings, while the decision was made by majority vote of the remaining justices.

President Vigil was also asked whether instances like this demonstrate constitutional uncertainty. He replied, “Overall, the Constitution does need some refining” and said that it was a goal of 2007 to settle those constitutional grey areas.

Andrew Filmer

35 Responses to “Judicial Council Ruling Removes Senator”

  1. Kevin C. said

    What!? The great satirist, Chuck Norton, is the “Chief Justice” of the student government. Are you guys trying to turn your school into comedy central, or something?

  2. Kevin C. said

    Actually, your SGA seems more like Roseland than anything else.

  3. Rachel Custer said

    Kevin,

    In this case, the SGA wasn’t the problem. Erkki’s misuse of his official standing in the SGA was. Chuck recused himself from the case, which was the appropriate action for him to take. I guess I don’t quite understand what aspect of the SGA is disagreeable to you in this case. To be fair, perhaps you know more about the SGA than I do, which is certainly possible; I’m not all that familiar with it beyond keeping current on reading its minutes and decisions. But to me, the students involved are doing the best they can to operate a professional Student Government.

  4. Kevin C. said

    Rachel,
    I’ll take your word for this. I guess it’s hard for me to separate which part of this article is merely a partisian attempt to defend one of The Vision’s writers (which might have been good reason not to write it in the first place), and which part of the article is an accurate representation of the events as they actually happened. I don’t know what occurred, but isn’t it an ordinary reaction to be a little skeptical about an article that a newspaper writes concerning one of its writers? Maybe The Vision should have been the one to recuse itself from this debate.

  5. Rachel Custer said

    Kevin,

    I understand your point; however, we worked very hard to make sure the article was a presentation of unbiased facts. We assigned the story to Andrew Filmer, who really doesn’t have much personal investment in this issue, as I understand it, and who has a bachelor’s degree in journalism. I believe any publication would have covered such a big campus event, and been justified in doing so. I also have worked on staff at two of the biggest newspapers in northern Indiana, and I have to say there is not a newspaper in the land that would recuse itself from a big news story because of involvement in the issue by a member of its staff. The paper may take extra measures to make sure the story is impartial, which is what we have attempted to do, but trust me, that is as far as it would go. A news publication is in the business of publishing news, and a big story is a big story no matter what it’s about. I hope this clears up some of the issues you brought up.

    Thanks for your comments.

  6. Erkki KochKetola said

    Insofar as Andrew’s report of the facts of the case, it’s accurate enough. I am actually impressed by the quality of this piece; it’s the best article I’ve seen to date in either the Preface or the Vision.

    However, I maintain my innocence. I was railroaded out of office because I made public statements regarding my opinion on the way the SGA was conducting its affairs which were unpopular with the Senate and most especially the Judicial Council. I believe that there have been numerous violations of due process, and that my right to free speech has been abridged. In short, I dissented from the official position, would not deal with problems “in house,” and was removed from office because of it. So long as the current Judicial Council remains in office, SGA members run the risk of being tried by a kangaroo court and summarily removed from office for expressing an opinion contrary to that of the Judicial Council or the executive, and criticizing them for their failures.

  7. Sam said

    This is only a test to see if I can still post on this site. I wrote several comments earlier today; neither went through.

    (Editors: you should provide some sort of way to email the administration directly, assuming I missed it.)

  8. Jarrod Brigham said

    Roseland? I don’t remember any fights breaking out in the SGA meetings and no one has been arrested yet.

  9. Rachel said

    Lol re: jarrod’s comment on Roseland. I think we can all agree our SGA has acted with more class than evident in many of that city’s board meetings.

  10. Rashida Vindic said

    Erkki,

    As a Senator you publicly declared the Ruling of the Judicial Council as “null and void”. Thats like the President publicy stating that a Senate vote you took is “null and void” and acting accordingly. All the rest of the stuff is fluff, that is what sealed your fait for me.

  11. Erkki Kochketola said

    Rashida, you continue to astound me. Let me clear a couple things up for you:

    (1) I did not publicly declare the ruling of the Judicial Council “null and void.” I expressed the argument that the Judicial Council ruling was null and void on the basis that they adjudicated the rights of the wrong party, in an e-mail I sent to the Judicial Council. I stand by my statement: the Judicial Council’s ruling can’t stand, because I never named Marcus as a party to my complaint, I named Joanna.

    (2) I’m not sure what you mean by “acting accordingly.” The Constitution Committee, so far as I’m aware, is still in existence. No amount of acting on anyone’s part (except perhaps that of the Senate, which has not so acted) is going to change that fact. I was speaking to other Senators regarding the possibility of dissolving the committee before I was impeached, which is completely within my rights.

    (3) Since when has it been an impeachable offense to express one’s opinion, now matter how unpopular or impolitely put?

  12. Erkki Kochketola said

    The aforesaid e-mail was a request for “reconsideration,” per the text of the ruling. Which, I should note, was summarily denied and met with accusations of harrassment.

  13. Rachel said

    Erkki,

    Actually, depending on your definition of “impolitely put”, there is a LOT of speech which is not legally free, especially when you are representing a certain organization or other body of people. If my political opinion, for instance, included severe language regarding my hatred of the President of the United States and included a threat, I would be arrested in short order. We live in a society that talks a lot about free speech, but it is important to note that there are a lot of kinds of speech that are not allowed for various reasons (the other example of screaming “fire” in a crowded theater comes to mind, but doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with an opinion, so I opted for the Presidential threat example). All to say, all speech is not necessarily free, especially when one is in a position of responsibility and representation, and even more especially when the speech is represented as being backed by one’s official position. For another example, it is protected speech for someone to speak out against the evils of big tobacco companies, but if a press rep. for RJ Reynolds said it in an official capacity anywhere, I’m quite sure he would be relieved of his duties immediately.

    I gotta tell you, Erkki, I am not very involved with the politics of the SGA at IUSB, except for keeping current on rulings and opinions. I really don’t have much of a dog in this fight, but you put yourself out there with some very questionable statements, including your official SGA signature. I think that’s wrong, and the consequences you are experiencing seem fairly natural to me.

  14. Erkki KochKetola said

    I’m not a press rep for RJ Reynolds. I was an elected official of the Student Government Association of IU South Bend. As such, I was accountable to the Student Body, not the President (or the Judicial Council). My statements were my opinions, and my opinions alone. I never once suggested that they were the opinions of the SGA Senate.

    The President of the United States has accused various parties of sympathizing with or aiding terrorism. This is a far stronger statement than I have ever made. Yet he is not today being impeached for his statements. Numerous elected officials all across the country have made statements that have far less justification than mine, and yet we do not see them impeached. The notion that there are greater restrictions on the speech of elected officials is one that the Judicial Council invented in order to remove me from office.

  15. Rachel Custer said

    Erkki,

    My point was more one of common sense. When you hold a post, it is common sense that when you in any way appear to be speaking as a representative of that post (e.g. by signing your name as “SGA senator”, you might want to be a little more careful about what you say than when you speak your opinions in other situations.

    That was the intent of using the RJ Reynolds metaphor, which I think is a good one. And really, Erkki, why would the Judicial Council go to the trouble of “inventing” charges in order to remove you from office? It sounds a bit paranoid to me. Do you truly believe these people had nothing better to do than to scheme about how to remove Erkki from office?

  16. Mike Renfrow said

    Erkki,

    I don’t want to get involved in this but I think there is a mistake that is really worth pointing out. In the article you were quoted as saying you voted for Joanna, Kim and Shannon as evidence that you supported people with different views than yourself. If you go back and look at what is in the SGA minutes you voted against Shannon, and abstained in the vote on Kim, and I couldn’t find the vote on Joanna (seems to be a missing meeting minutes). Just thought I would make the point that the 2 people I could verify, you miss represented yourself.

    Just setting the record straight.

    Mike

  17. Erkki Kochketola said

    Yes, Rachel, I think they’ve been scheming against me since I got elected. They saw my name and immediately began looking for an excuse to get rid of me. They don’t like my politics.

  18. Erkki KochKetola said

    Mike;

    Bad memory on my part. I did vote for Joanna, but that meeting’s minutes are oddly missing from the website. My vote against Shannon was based on my objection to the fact that the Senate had received no prior notice of her nomination. I don’t recall why I decided to abstain from Kim’s nomination (probably for the same reason).

  19. Ferguson said

    Is it a possibility that Erkki recieved a complaint from a student about this situation and acted accordingly as an elected official? If a student made a complaint, then he should have brought the matter up.

  20. Rashida Vindic said

    You can play the “if” game all day but “if” that were the situation I suspect Erkki would have said something.

    Also, it still does not make it ok that he declared a judicial council ruling “null and void”.

  21. Rachel Custer said

    Erkki,

    It’s highly improbable that every single one of the other members of the SGA were out to get you because they “don’t like your politics”. I would venture to say there are some of them who agree with your politics, or at least come closer to agreeing with your politics than with someone like Chuck’s politics.

    You disagreed with Chuck’s politics; does that necessarily mean that you were scheming a way to get rid of him? The two don’t naturally follow one from the other. There are people that can disagree with others’ politics and who can still work together professionally.

    The bottom line is, everywhere we go in life, there will be certain others who disagree with us. However, this only underscores the need to act with propriety so as not to give them ammunition. You did not.

  22. Sam said

    Yet, isn’t it noteworthy that the one member kicked off the committee has outspoken liberal views that go against the grain of essentially the rest of the board? Pure speculation on my part – admittedly – and with more than a degree of ignorance. Yet, it tends to look that way from an outside perspective. I don’t think Erkki stated that “every single one” of the remaining members were conservative and/or out to get him.

  23. Rachel said

    Sam,

    I guess I must also admit a certain amount of ignorance regarding the “grain” of the board as related to political views. I don’t know whether every one of them is conservative, or half of them are, or none of them are. My point was, in the adult world, one thing we must learn is that some people will be out to get us. This means that if we act with propriety, we will not only give them no satisfaction, but, in the words of a wise man, we will “heap burning coals upon their heads.” Assuming for the sake of this post that everyone on the whole SGA has been out to get Erkki, if he hadn’t acted in such a way as to give them an opportunity, he would still be a senator. Voicing one’s opinion is one thing; voicing one’s opinion as an official representative is quite another.

    To be honest, the SGA is not about politics in the traditional sense of the word. It is a student government, engaged in the politics of running a school, but, to my understanding, “liberal” or “conservative” views do not necessarily even need to come in to play, and indeed, are not supposed to come into play. I realize this is a bit idealistic, most likely, but I don’t think it is comparable to the actual government in that way.

    Hope this clears things up a bit; as I have mentioned, I don’t have much of a dog in this fight, but I do have an opinion, and I want to be sure I am voicing it fairly and clearly.

  24. Sam said

    That could well be, Rachel. Don’t really have a feel for who Erkki is anyway. Obviously I don’t know the background in general, and will thus stay out of it.

    :)

  25. Erkki Kochketola said

    Rachel,

    I was being sarcastic. That comment should have been surrounded with mock sarcasm tags.

  26. Erkki Kochketola said

    Once again, however, you’re making a crucial mistake. I don’t represent the SGA, I represent the Student Body.

  27. Erkki Kochketola said

    Once again, however, you’re making a crucial mistake. I didn’t represent the SGA, I represented the Student Body.

  28. Rashida Vindic said

    The problem with this assertion is really there is nobody who truely democratically represents the student body accept the President. He was the only person elected into office. Every Senator was either appointed or ran in an election that had 11 candidates for 12 positions. If you would have been the only person to vote for you, you would have been elected. That is hardly a mandate from the people. Now compare that to the President and his former running mate, no longer in office, who won their election, with 70% of the vote.

    I’ll take this one step further and say that constitutionally the President is also the person given the authority to officially speak for the student body, not an individual senator.

  29. Erkki KochKetola said

    I see. So being elected now means you aren’t elected. Channelling the Queen of Hearts, are we?

  30. Rashida Vindic said

    Its a pretty weak definition of “elected”. I guess Sadam was technically elected as well. (and I will stop you now before you take that the wrong way) Simply, there was no other choice for people to vote for!

  31. Erkki Kochketola said

    Too late, I’ve already taken it the wrong way. The comparison to Saddam was not only unncessary and gratuitous, but also probably inaccurate; I’m pretty sure Saddam never actually had to stand for election. Not, of course, that that actually matters to you, because it would actually require being honest and factual rather than proffering vague innuendo and bone-headed “analysis.” You would have to admit that, in fact, you actually know absolutely nothing about IUSB, the SGA, or anyone involved with it, and so are utterly unqualified to write your column.

    And perhaps you were not aware that numerous seats go uncontested at all levels of government in the United States every time there’s an election (see, for example, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15446775/)? Are those people also not elected?

  32. Former SGA Member said

    Some facts need to be stated.

    Erkki,

    Your charge that your request for reconsideration was summarily denied by Chief Justice Norton and not brought before the entire Judicial Council is untrue. I asked the Chief about this myself and he told me that he told you that if you would have liked to file a motion to reconsider with different reasoning that the Judicial Council would hear it.

    Secondly, you told Senator Perrin and the Senate is aware of at least two other people in the SGA that you told in the few days after Chief Norton was confirmed that you would get rid of him because you “didn’t like his politics and head games” or something to that effect. That is a direct violation of the SGA Constitution.

    Thirdly, the Senate is also aware that you also told another SGA member that if Chief Norton was not appointed to President Vigil’s executive committee to advise him on the SGA Constitution and another member of the Judicial Council was chosen instead that you would have never made an issue of it and would not have sued in the Judicial Council.

    Fourth, you sent a letter to the IUSB Vision that they had better disassociate with writer Rashida Vindic or they would be in “very big trouble” and signed that letter as an SGA Senator. So much for free speech.

    Fifth, you backed a certain female SGA Senator into a corner and shall we say “applied pressure” to get her to change her vote and remove her name from the impeachment petition that the Senate signed to start the process. So much for freedom of conscience.

    Sixth, you also filed charges with the Student Life office against the Judicial Council and against Chief Justice Norton that were far out to say the least. This included a completely unsupported charge of academic misconduct against Chief Norton that the IU Administration found to be baseless.

    Erkki, you claim that your free speech rights were oppressed, which is ironic considering that you are free to post here and post you have, and considering that you used pressure to silence or intimidate those with whom you disagreed.

  33. Sam said

    Why don’t you guys just go duke it out somewhere. This sort of back/forth should ideally be relegated to email. By now you are boring everybody except yourselves.

  34. Rashida Vindic said

    Auh snap, that hurt! Those are great points all around. I will say don’t forget that in the charges he filed with the Office of Student Life, they found NO wrong doing by the Judicial Council in their ruling on Erkki’s lawsuit or of the actions of the Cheif. Interesting how that has never really come out. Not ever the IUSB administration agrees with you Erkki! Let it go!

  35. Rachel Custer said

    Sam,

    I always love reading your posts. They make me smile, and in this case, laugh out loud. Thanks for your contribution to the weblog.

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