The Impeachment of Webster Cook (Crackergate)

Webster Cook is the young man attending a Florida University who was assaulted by Catholic Host Watchers because he did not chew the sacred cracker fast enough in church several weeks ago. This led to the incident that became internationally known as Crackergate. The internet itself became the venue for a major kerfuffle involving PZ Myers and The Catholic Church, but in the mean time, back in Florida, Webster Cook was charged, as a student in the University's own Kangaroo court, with various crimes, but acquitted a few weeks ago. More recently, he (as a member of student government) was impeached, successfully. There are important political and social undercurrents to this impeachment process.

Benjamin Collard is Webster's cook friend, and a couple weeks ago Benjamin wrote up a description of events to date, focusing on the trial of Webster Cook, on this blog. Today, I'm happy to provide you with Benjamin Collard's description of the Impeachment of Webster Cook.

Benjamin's Text is below the fold. Below Benjamin's Text is a set of links to selected blog posts relevant to this incident.

I want to apologize (to anyone who will read this) in advance-I wrote this in a hasty manner. Ill try to clear up any questions, below in the comment section of the blog.

The impeachment hearing is over and Webster was impeached on one charge (misfeasance- the wrongful performance of a normally lawful act) with a vote count of 22-7-1. The hearing was a pathetic show of bias. I have not been involved in any type of legal process (trial, hearing) before this impeachment, but I am very worried that people who are on trial for serious matters face the same type of due process violations that Webster Cook faced during the impeachment hearing. I know that many people are upset about what Webster did on June 29 in regards to the handling of the eucharist, but one thing that everyone should be upset about is the violation of due process. Everyone (no matter what they are accused of) should receive a fair trial when they have their day in court, or in this case- Kangaroo court.

The hearing started at 7pm and lasted until 11pm. The LJR committee asked the witnesses questions until 10pm. I asked the majority of the questions. At around 10pm the LJR committee met, and voted on each charge. The LJR committee's vote is a recommendation for senate. The vote count for the first charge was 0-7-0 (LJR was in favor of dropping this charge). The vote count of the second charge was 5-2-0 (LJR was in favor of finding Webster guilty on this charge). The vote count of the third charge was 0-7-0 (LJR was in favor of dropping this charge). The senate reconvened after the LJR meeting and the LJR recommendation was read. The senate asked the witnesses questions until 10:58pm. At 10:58pm many senators had their hands raised in order to ask questions, but the Speaker of the senate reminded senators that the meeting had to end at 11pm. After the Speaker spoke, one senator made a motion to vote. After the motion, we voted. The first charge was voted down 7-22-1. The senate voted to find Webster guilty of the second charge 22-7-1. There was no reason to read the vote count of the third charge because Webster was already found guilty of the second charge.

I am not a lawyer, and I am not going to pretend to be one, but I think it is important to make a list of possible due process violations.
The impeachment hearing is outlined in Title VII of our statutes (link). Many people feel that Webster was treated in an unfair matter, and his rights may have been violated.

701.1, 701.2 B- ........the accused has the right to refute the charges.

During the hearing, Webster was not given the opportunity to refute the charges.

701.2 At this time, the Senate may question:
1.The accused;
2.The evidence;
3.The witnesses;
4.The LJR Committee members.

Furbush was given the opportunity to speak on two occasions during the hearing, and he gave an account of what happened that day. He was not in attendance during the mass on June 29th. Furbush is not the accused, not a witness, and not an LJR committee member. He should not have been allowed to speak unless someone made a motion for a non-senator to speak (this motion was never made).

700.2 -Once on the floor of the Senate, debate shall be limited to discussion on whether the allegation(s) presented maintains a reasonable concern of potentially constituting an impeachable offense. At the end of said debate, a majority vote of the Senate shall be required for further investigation. If a majority vote for further investigation is reached, the Speaker of the Senate shall set a date for a hearing no sooner than two (2) school weeks, and no later than four (4) school weeks from that meeting of the Senate. If the charges are against the Speaker of the Senate or the Speaker of the Senate is unavailable, and a majority vote is upheld, the Senate President Pro Tempore shall set the date for a hearing, still under the constraints as outlined above. Under such circumstances that charges are brought forth in the last four (4) school weeks of the semester or officer's term of office, a 2/3 vote of the Senate may allow for the impeachment hearing to be held as soon as one (1) week from the date it is voted on by the Senate.

The impeachment hearing took place more than 4 weeks after the senate voted to investigate the matter.

Members of the legislative branch held secret meetings, in order to collect witness statements.

The speaker of the senate told the senate (during the impeachment hearing) that precedent was set in during the 38th student senate (precedent which allowed him to hold secret meetings). The pro temp of the 38th senate sent letters to the school paper, as well as Webster, saying that precedent was never set during the 38th and the sunshine act had to be followed when holding meetings. The sunshine act requires public officials to post the meeting time and meeting place, 24 hours in advance of a meeting. The meeting posting has to be posted in more than one public space. The public has to be given access to meetings where official business is conducted.

You may read this and may think that holding a secret meeting is not a very big deal. Ill explain why it turned out to be a big deal. Josh Swallows gave a statement to the people who were conducting the secret meetings. Josh Swallows' testimony was cited as credible in the LJR meeting during the hearing. Unfortunately members of LJR cited him as a credible person, even though Swallows did not show up for the hearing and as a result, we did not have the opportunity to cross examine him. Members of LJR had no possible way of assessing whether Swallows was credible. All we had from Swallows was a witness statement which was very pitiful (Swallows made a statement saying that he saw things that just were not physically possible; Swallows was using second hand information to make a first hand statement). If Webster was allowed to attend the secret meeting, he would have had the opportunity to question Swallows and show that Swallows was making statements about things that he did not witness.

I do not think that this matter is over and I hope that Webster appeals the senate's decision to the judicial branch or to an actual court.

Aside from the incident at the mass, the impeachment hearing, and the student conduct hearing, we need to note a few important things. Bill Donohue, the Bishop of Orlando, and angry catholic fanatics-did not seek forgiveness, they sought expulsion, impeachment and in the case of the fanatics-personal injury. Sometimes it is how you carry yourself when you face adversity that matters more than the adversity itself. Bill Donohue, the Bishop and catholic fanatics did not handle themselves in an acceptable manner when they made hateful statements to the press and through emails.

I think that this incident could have been handled without the spectacle if both sides made a decision to open dialogue. This was not a murder or a crime of great magnitude that both sides would not be able to open dialogue. When Webster offered to sit down with a mediator and talk about the issue with CCM, CCM rejected his invitation. I have to ask the question -how much time did members of CCM spend filing witness statements? How much time did members of CCM spend at the student conduct trial? How much time did members of CCM spend testifying at SGA?

If members of CCM took one hour to sit down with Webster and a Mediator, this problem would have been handled in a professional matter, the media would not have gotten involved and both sides could have saved face. Instead CCM let Andrew Johnson and Furbush lead them down a path that did not benefit CCM in any measurable way.

-Benjamin Collard September 3rd, 2008

July 8th, 2008. IT'S A FRACKIN' CRACKER! (PZ Myers)

...People around the world are actually extremely angry about this -- Webster Cook has been sent death threats over his cracker. Those are just kooks, you might say, but here is the considered, measured response of the local diocese:

"We don't know 100% what Mr. Cooks motivation was," said Susan Fani a spokesperson with the local Catholic diocese. "However, if anything were to qualify as a hate crime, to us this seems like this might be it."...

July 8th, 2008. How can you tell a Christian is lying? His mouth is moving. (Laden)

There are a lot of Christians that I trust, and love. But that is because of who they are. If I just know that someone is a Christian, especially if they are the sort of person to wear their Christianity on their sleeve, uttering "praise god" and telling me "bless you " and "I'm so blessed" and so on, then I tend to not trust them.

Why? Because there is a very good chance that their priorities are ...

July 13, 2008. Mail Dump (PZ Myers)

I'm posting without comment the worst of today's crop of email threats. Formatting will be little wacky since it is just a raw dump of the mail with headers

July 16, 2008. PZ Myers Death Threat Confession (Laden)

This is the death threat: "You have two choices my fucked up friend, first you can quit your job for the good of the children. Or you can get your brains beat in."

The threat was issued via an email account from a florist that you've likely used if you've sent flowers more than a few times. Well, a person I assume to be Mr. Melanie sent me an email this morning....

July 24, 2008. The Great Desecration (PZ Myers)

It is finished.

I wonder how many of our Catholic friends have heard of the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215? This is the event where many of their important dogmas were codified, including the ideas of Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, that the Eucharist was the sacrament that only properly ordained priests of the Catholic church could give, and that the Jews were a pariah people, who could hold no public office, had to pay a special Jew tax for their right to exist, and were required to wear special clothing to distinguish them from Christians. The yellow badge marking the Juden was not an invention of the Nazis, but a decree by faithful Catholics

24 July 2008. 24 hours of silence (Laden)

This blog will now engage in twenty four hours of silence as a show of respect for the all those who have suffered at the hands religious zealots around the world and throughout history.

I say this out of inspiration from a post written on Pharyngula by biologist PZ Myers. PZ makes the link between medieval anti-Semitic church law and the original idea that the Eucharist is holy.

July 25, 2008. Head of UMN Morris Backs PZ Myers (Laden)

August 14, 2008. Benjamin Collard Speaks out on the Webster Cook Eucharist Ordeal.

"The 'Eucharist Scandal' has finally come to an end and all charges against me and Webster Cook have been dismissed. I am very upset (and have been for the past 40+ days) that people such as Bill Donohue, the Bishop of Orlando, and many members of the catholic community have decided to make statements regarding this situation without having a conversation with myself or Webster....


More like this

Ben Collard - Have there been further threats against you or Webster Cook? Do you have any further news on the case of the UCF student who was repeatedly kicked and punched after the student newspaper printed a false report that he was Webster Cook's "legal advisor"?

By Pierce R. Butler (not verified) on 03 Sep 2008 #permalink

LJR-Legislative, Judicial, and Rules Committee.

CCM- catholic campus ministries

The second charge was misfeasance- the wrongful performance of a normally lawful act. Ill go into what he was accused of, in a later post. I do not have the affidavit in front of me.

The 'legal advisor' did not file charges. I have not received any threats or hate mail since July. Ill ask Webster if he has gotten any new hate mail messages.

By Ben Collard (not verified) on 03 Sep 2008 #permalink

"Swallows made a statement saying that he saw things that just were not physically possible"

Verrrry interesting. Can you recall the specifics of that statement? Better yet, is there any way that you can get a transcript of the statement? (I am hoping that there was some equivalent of a court reporter, although considering the proceedings, I may be hoping too much.)

By J. J. Ramsey (not verified) on 03 Sep 2008 #permalink

In the statutes posted by Mr. Collard it states that at 2/3 vote is required to remove the accused from office. The vote count was 22-7-1. I'm assuming that Webster abstained. If he had instead voted against the charges he would have gone free.

By Joseph Miller (not verified) on 03 Sep 2008 #permalink

In the statutes posted by Mr. Collard it states that at 2/3 vote is required to remove the accused from office. The vote count was 22-7-1. I'm assuming that Webster abstained. If he had instead voted against the charges he would have gone free.

By Joseph Miller (not verified) on 03 Sep 2008 #permalink

Not quite, Joseph. If he'd voted, it would be 22-8-0. A 2/3 vote would be at 20-10 with these numbers, so it wouldn't have made a difference.

This is what I was referring to when I said he testified to things that could not physically happen-"The two men waited fro Michelle to pass them to get up for Communion and then Jumped into line. Webster went up to receive Communion. When the Eucharistic minister held up the Eucharist (the bread that is consecrated by the priest at Mass) and said, " The Body of Christ," Webster replied, "Thank you?""

Our seating arrangement was as follows- I was at the end of the row (left end), Webster sat the the right of me, and Michelle sat to the right of Webster. The communion line was in the center of the room. Our section was the front left quandrant(there were 4 sections which were divided by large walkways). We moved from left to right to get to the center of the room where the communion line was. Michelle was to the right of us and the communion line was to the right of Michelle. We did not wait for Michelle to get up to pass us in order to move towards the communion line. Since she was to the right of us and we were moving right, she never passed us.

If you read his statement and you dont think about the seating arrangement, you may end up with the impression that we waited for Michelle to pass us so that we could run into the line at the last minute and hijjack the wafer.

Swallows did not show up, and as a result I could not ask him questions that would prove that he was using second-hand (at best) statements in order to form his own statement.

If you read through Michelles statement, you find that Swallows was seated in the very back right corner of the room during the mass. Swallows could not have seen anything from his vantage point. However one senator on LJR cited Swallows statement as credible, and said that he(the senator) voted to find Webster guilty as a result of Swallows statement.

If you want copy of all the statements as well as the affidavit, file a public records request.

By Benjamin Collard (not verified) on 03 Sep 2008 #permalink

After I received a voicemail stating that I had to show up to give a witness statement, I called the person who is making the documentary and I asked this person(the kid with the camera ;)) to come with me to this meeting and film everything. There is a tape of my witness statement at the secret meeting. The entire impeachment was filmed.

I should clarify that secret was in reference to the lack of meeting posting that alert the public that public officals are conducting meetings and they (the public) are allowed to attend the meeting. Second, for the most part only the witnesses and the person conducting the interviews knew about the meetings (the location and time).

By Benjamin Collard (not verified) on 03 Sep 2008 #permalink

Good to hear. By the way, if you guys don't know a good film editor, let me know. I may be able to hook you up. You'd be working at a distance, but she's done that before.

Here's the article in the student newspaper about it. It sounds like they completely botched the hearing, but if the testimony is correct, Cook's conduct was unbecoming of a Senator (though maybe not impeachably so).

By Epistaxis (not verified) on 03 Sep 2008 #permalink

"This was not ... a crime of great magnitude"

Exactly what law was broken that made it a crime in the first place?

By Bill Ockham (not verified) on 04 Sep 2008 #permalink

I just want to state how very impressed I am with Benjamin Collard, his impressive writing, and his detailed account of cracker-gate.

Thanks for continuing to update us, Benjamin!

By articulett (not verified) on 04 Sep 2008 #permalink

So, I am the "legal advisor" (not really, as I am not certified to do so and I am merely providing an analysis of what they could be interpreted as). I guess I will update my stance on why I have not really done anything.

I was attacked shortly after leaving a meeting with Benjamin Collard and Webster Cook. The description that I have of the male is that he was taller than I (6'2 est), brown hair, glasses. I just described half of my university.

Thank you, Pierce, for asking. However, I decided not to file anything because I have nothing to go on. I can say that I have not been harassed since, possibly because I did change my hair colour, and possibly because I almost never travel alone any more.

Thank you, as always, Ben, for keeping everyone updated on the situation.