Judicial code, system argued

By Jami Peterson

The Judicial Advisory Board is still waiting for the student regent to turn his judicial code complaints into written action.

NIU Student Regent James Mertes first raised concerns about several aspects of the judicial system involving investigation and hearing procedures last November.

Mertes brought the issue up again at last week’s Student Association meeting. During his report to the SA, Mertes said he plans to start the ball rolling this week. “I want the judicial code much more compatible with due process by the end of the semester,” he said.

Mertes said he believes many students support his recommended changes.

Judicial Office Director Larry Bolles said no formal requests have been sent through the Judicial Advisory Board channels. Bolles said if the board accepts the changes, they are sent to the University Council and then to NIU President John La Tourette for approval.

“Everybody has been holding their breath waiting to see them (Mertes’ written complaints),” he said. “He needs to put them in writing. There may be some merit in them.”

One of Mertes’ concerns involves judicial advocates working in the same office as the judicial office director who determines sanctions. “I want judicial advocates orientated outside the judicial office,” he said.

But Bolles said advocates are chosen from a list provided by the Resident Hall Association and the SA, and students choose their own representative. Also, he said the board determining guilt or innocence is made up of faculty and NIU students.

Mertes said the judicial code should require the burden of proof to be by “clear and convincing evidence,” instead of “a substantial weight of evidence.”

Also, he said any comments by judicial office employees about the alleged offender or the case should be made with the alleged offender present.

“Everything is weighted against the defendant,” Mertes said. “Only one side goes in blind (under the current policy), and that’s the defendant.”

However, Bolles said he just attended a “Law and Higher Education” conference where several institutions from all over the country praised NIU’s judicial system for being “on the cutting edge” of judicial codes compared to other universities.

At the meeting, judicial policy ideas also were exchanged. “Maybe we do have some sort of changes coming, but I don’t think Jim is the guy to discover them,” Bolles said.

Associate Legal Counsel Norden Gilbert said he only learned of Mertes’ concerns through articles in the Northern Star. He was surprised Mertes did not present his concerns at the last Judicial Advisory Board meeting two weeks ago, he said.

“If we (the Judicial Advisory Board) ever get them (Mertes’ concerns), we’ll look at them,” he said.