Mertes raises judicial code concerns

By Jami Peterson

NIU student Regent James Mertes bounced around judicial code changes Friday in an attempt to nudge judicial advisory board members over to his side of the fence.

Mertes began presenting eight concerns about Judicial Office investigation and hearing procedures to the Judicial Advisory Board about two weeks ago. The Judicial Office investigates and conducts hearings when NIU students violate the judicial codes. The board will finish reviewing the concerns sometime this week.

Mertes said because the Judicial Office can call in witnesses and speak to both sides of the case before the hearing, the system is “slanted” toward the office.

“The alleged offender doesn’t have the ability or power to speak to the other side or witnesses of the other side. The Judicial Office can call all witnesses in,” he said. “It’s a one-sided process.”

The bylaws allow an alleged offender to ask a member of the Judicial Office to request a witness to speak with them before the hearing. However, the alleged offender cannot “compel” a witness to come in or request that the witness receive sanctions if they refuse to do so.

Judicial Office Director Larry Bolles said it would be unfair to require other students, who are witnesses, to speak with the alleged offender.

Although the bylaws allow the Judicial Office to punish students who refuse to come into the office, Bolles said he would not follow through on this law.

“I wouldn’t recommend expelling or dismissing them. If they refuse to come in, I would not stop their education,” Bolles said. “No system, I think, would do that.”

Mertes’ provision would not allow the Judicial Office to meet with witnesses who refuse to speak to the alleged offender, he said. Unlike the attorney’s office whose incentive is to win, the incentive of the Judicial Office is to get to the truth, he said.

“We’re not a court of law,” Bolles said. “If this were a court of law, a lawyer would be jumping up and down and screaming about it.”

Mertes said if the Judicial Office’s goal is to find the truth, the best way to attain this goal would be to give the alleged offender the opportunity to hear both sides of the case.

Student Association President Preston Came said the alleged offender should be given a short amount of time to speak with the plaintiff and their witnesses.

“It seems to me (the Judicial Office) is here not just for truth, but for justice,” Came said.

However, Residence Hall Association President Dan Chamberlain said students should not receive punishment if they refuse to come into the Judicial Office. “To require cooperation is impossible,” he said.

Another concern Mertes raised involved changing the burden of proof definition from “a substantial weight of evidence” to “clear and convincing evidence.”

Because Judicial Office hearings are not really criminal or civil, Mertes said the weight of evidence should fall between these two types of hearings. “We should provide greater protection for wrongly accused.”

Bolles said Mertes’ burden of proof would require about 85 percent beyond reasonable doubt. “With clear and convincing evidence you couldn’t find a person guilty without a witness,” he said.

Mertes also said a hearing board member should serve on the board for no longer than two years, so the “same jury does not hear cases over and over.”

However, Sondra King, a member of the hearing board, said board members need to serve for more than two years. “It takes a while to get a feel for what’s going on,” she said.

Chamberlain, who also serves on the board, agreed with King. “There is an adjustment period,” he said.