SDSU hearing process violates student rights

by Joe Stewart

After hearing the Center for Student Rights and Responsibilities was accusing a friend of mine of aiding and abetting his own assault, I felt compelled to ask its director, Lee Mintz, a few fairly simple questions. I have yet to hear back from Mintz, so I’ll redirect one of those questions to you: How does disallowing a student the right to have an attorney present during a hearing or meeting, a process that follows legal procedures and involves legally binding documents and contracts, not put the student at a disadvantage or violate civil rights?

With that in mind, I ask that you hear out this case.

Jon Hamilton, an engineering major with no record of misconduct, was notified by the CSRR that it had been made aware of his involvement in a physical altercation.

Indeed, Hamilton had. He recently attended a party where an unruly guest had been asked to leave several times. When the guest slapped Hamilton’s girlfriend, he quickly pushed the future Nobel Peace Prize winner away from her, grabbed his collar and escorted him from the house. Quickly setting a trend, the fine gentleman punched Hamilton in the face as he was turning to rejoin the party.

It was Hamilton’s necessary visit to the hospital to receive stitches and the hospital staff’s subsequent call to the police to report a violent crime that allowed the CSRR to be notified.

The letter Hamilton received informed him he needed to come discuss the situation, as he may be responsible for “encouraging, permitting or assisting another to do any act that could subject him or her to discipline.” Attendance was mandatory.

So what is a student’s proper response when another student becomes violent, out of control and a threat to those around him? Should he stand by until the guy “gets it out of his system”? Maybe he should cower in a corner, dial 911 and hope a limited amount of blood is spilled while waiting for the po-po to make their cameo. God forbid you attempt to protect those around you lest you be accused of aiding and abetting your own assault. I wonder, how many victims of sexual assault have been disciplined for “asking for it”?

Criminal Law 3470 protects an individual’s right to use reasonable physical force in defense of self or others from imminent physical harm.
The police did arrive and they offered Hamilton the ability to press charges several times. They also gave him the opportunity to be in contact with the city’s support unit for victims of violent crime. Nowhere in the conversation did they discuss potential criminal liability.

I’d like to direct this question to those of you upstairs in the administration: Is one of our enumerated student rights and responsibilities to forego our federally protected rights? Is this what we have to do to remain in good standing as students?

When Hamilton arrived for his meeting, he brought with him his older brother and closest relative for guidance and support, a right protected by CSRR.  Ben Hamilton, a named partner of a San Diego law firm, was not at the meeting to represent a client; he was there to support his brother. However, he was asked to wait outside when they discovered he was a licensed attorney.

This begs the question, what happens in these meetings that CSRR doesn’t want an attorney to hear? When Hamilton’s older brother asked this question, he was told that attorneys are not welcome because the process is to be characterized as a learning experience and not meant to be adversarial, an explanation he summarized as, “Let’s hold hands and punish you.”
Suffice it to say, Hamilton is not taking this quietly, nor should he. When proposed with a settlement agreement stipulating he must accept a punishment for a violation he is not officially admitting guilt to, Hamilton opted for a hearing which, he was warned, could possibly render much more firm consequences.

What precedent is being set for students here? It is more than repulsive that an organization tasked with upholding student rights would appeal to your fear when persuading you not to stand up for yourself.

How many other students have been or will be faced with this stark disadvantage? How many other students will face a loose, illogical interpretation of conduct code so this office can justify its own existence?

How are Hamilton’s rights being protected when he goes before a hearing officer alone, who is required to be either a campus official, licensed attorney or administrative judge? How will Hamilton fair when burdened by presenting evidence and witnesses, and having the same presented against him? Does a typical undergraduate student have the analytical, legal mind required to question, cross-examine and offer a closing statement?

An old proverb says, “A man who represents himself has a fool for a client.” It looks like the CSRR manipulates policy to make fools of us all.

—Joe Stewart is a journalism senior.

—The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.