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Ex-Supreme Court judge to be picked

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- One of three former Florida Supreme Court justices will serve as an independent hearing official in Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston's upcoming hearing to determine whether he violated the school's conduct code during an alleged sexual assault in December 2012.

The former Florida Supreme Court justice who is picked to hear the case will consider the evidence, determine whether Winston committed as many as four violations of FSU's student code and, if necessary, determine what his punishment should be.

Winston and the former FSU student who accused him of sexually assaulting her can each strike one of the former justices from hearing the case. If they choose to strike the same former judge, FSU would decide which of the remaining two would hear the case. Winston and the former student will not have any interaction with the judges before they decide which one to strike.

According to people familiar with the case, the three former Florida Supreme Court judges under consideration are:

• Major Harding, 79, a state Supreme Court justice from 1991 to 2000 who preceded Charles T. Wells as the court's chief justice. A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, Harding is a graduate of Wake Forest and Virginia's law school.

• Joseph Hatchett, a native of Clearwater, Florida, became the first African-American appointed to the Florida Supreme Court, by Gov. Reubin Askew in 1975. Hatchett, 82, was the first black man appointed to a federal appeals court in the Deep South, by President Jimmy Carter in 1979.

• Wells, a Florida Supreme Court justice from 1994 to 2009. A graduate of the University of Florida and the UF Law School, Wells was the court's chief justice from 2000 to 2002. Wells, 75, presided over the 2000 U.S. presidential election recount cases involving the hanging chads on Florida's ballots.

Typically, FSU's student conduct cases are heard by one of the following: the director of student rights and responsibilities, the dean of students, an associate dean of students, the student conduct board, or an administrative hearing panel, which consists of one faculty member, one staff member and two student conduct board members.

But in what they called "the best interests of the university," FSU interim president Garnett Stokes and vice president for student affairs Mary Coburn chose to have one of three people from outside the university conduct the formal investigative hearing.

FSU spokeswoman Browning Brooks told ESPN.com on Saturday that FSU chose to have an outside observer hear the case to ensure impartiality.

"To ensure an absolutely fair and impartial process, and to avoid any conflict created by the ongoing federal investigation and threatened civil litigation, the university will appoint an independent hearing officer to investigate and make findings regarding this matter," Brooks said in a statement. "The use of an outside hearing officer is allowed under FSU procedures. Out of fairness to the students involved, we are exercising this option to remove any doubt about the integrity of the eventual outcome."

Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner who led FSU to the 2013 national championship, was notified of the pending hearing by letter last week. He has until Friday to contact FSU's Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities to schedule an information hearing, which probably won't take place until after Saturday's game against No. 5 Notre Dame at Doak Campbell Stadium.

After the information hearing, in which the university will explain to Winston his rights and he'll be asked to strike one of the justices, FSU officials are required to give him notice of the hearing date at least five school days in advance.