Public defenders to uphold student constitution

Student Government plans to institute public defenders for students involved in UM Supreme Court cases. The project, approved by the Student Government (SG) Senate in the fall, comes after the Supreme Court, SG’s judicial branch, decided last semester that it would be fairer and more efficient to create a committee to defend students and student organizations on trial.

“People come to trial and don’t know things and are therefore disadvantaged,” Jessica Yates, a junior and associate justice, said. “This way they would know the rules, and it would be easier.”

Yates also said that sometimes students are not aware of the proceedings and are often thrown into situations where it is necessary to learn the school’s constitution the night before a trial. These case hearings could go on for several hours, even into the early morning.

The role of the Supreme Court is to settle disputes that might arise regarding the SG constitution.

“The organization works internally within Student Government to help protect the integrity of the constitution, especially during election time,” Chief Justice Annette Ponnock said.

There has not yet been a posting on the SG website about the public defenders or the application process to join the group. Ponnock said that this was due to time conflicts last semester and that there was too little time after the Senate’s approval to publicize the new project.

In December the Court announced it would hold a certification test to help determine which students were qualified to be public defenders. However, due to limited student response, the Court plans to administer another test in February. This certification exam is part of the application process and will test knowledge of the student constitution, branches of SG and general election procedure.

Few students were aware of the new project, however.

“Public defender’s program, what’s that?” Bo Williams, junior, asked.

Of the students who did know, some said they were curious as to whether only pre-law students could hold a position on the committee.

According to Yates, there would probably be no such stipulation for applicants. Those vying for a public defender position, however, would have to be “well versed in the constitution,” she said.

Yates said that there are justices on the Court now who are not pre-law students.

“As long as the defenders are knowledgeable, it should not matter,” she said.

When the Court reconvenes this month, it is expected to decide the details regarding the application process and new committee leader.

In the long run, Ponnock said she hopes that this program will support her efforts to increase the presence of UM’s Supreme Court.

“It will bring more student involvement into Student Government,” Ponnock said.

Candice Castaneda can be contacted at