St. John Tradewinds News

Governor Calls For Special Election After Judge Rules on Senator-Elect

ST. THOMAS — Gov. Kenneth Mapp has called for a special election to be held to fill a vacant seat in the 32nd Legislature. The governor issued a proclamation Tuesday night after a federal judge said he would not direct the first branch of government to seat Senator-elect Kevin Rodriquez.

District Court Judge Curtis Gomez, also on Tuesday, issued a memorandum opinion in a case filed by Rodriquez on Jan. 10. Gomez called the case complex, touching on the U.S. Constitution, federal-state relationships and elections law.

In his proclamation, Mapp called for a special election to be held in the St. Thomas-St. John district on or before April 9.

The governor invoked Title 2 of the Virgin Islands Code, Section 111(a), which provides a remedy for a Senate seat left unfilled for 30 days.

The governor also said the election was needed to, “ … ensure that the electorate of the District of St. Thomas and St. John have full and equal representation in the Legislature of the Virgin Islands.”

In his ruling Gomez addressed the issues raised in the case and the parties they were associated with. Arguments raised by Rodriquez, the plaintiff, were called novel and premature; those belonging to Janelle Sarauw and Brigitte Berry plaintiffs from an associated case were called valid but arriving late in the game.

The judge also addressed the actions of  the previous legislative body — the 31st — in passing Act No. 7892. That measure created a unified Board of Elections.

The unclear intent and sloppy wording that inadvertently nullified district elections boards as of Jan. 1, 2017 produced consternation for the judge. He said it “could require an overhaul,” especially now that a special election is pending.

Right now, Gomez said, there is no legal entity to conduct the election being used to remedy the vacant seat problem.

Senate President Myron Jackson issued a statement after the ruling and the governor’s proclamation, saying he would act to correct a technical error in Act. 7892. Jackson was named as a defendant in the Rodriquez lawsuit filed in District Court and said he would wait for the court to rule before taking further action.

Rodriquez won enough votes in the Nov. 8, 2016 general election to win a sixth seat in a seven seat race. But Sarauw — the eighth place finisher — and Berry, her campaign supporter, said they received a tip from an anonymous source about alleged impropriety.

That situation appeared in the form of a document filed in a Tennessee bankruptcy court where Rodriquez said he lived there and only there in 2013 and 2014. If that were so, the opponents said, Rodriquez could not fulfill the mandatory three-year residency requirement for lawmakers in the VI.

Arguments were bandied back and forth in Superior Court over questions of domicile. The VI Supreme Court weighed in the day before the 32nd Legislature swore in on Jan. 9.

High court justices said the lower court invoked the wrong doctrine when it ruled. They sent the case back and ordered Rodriquez not to swear in with the other senators-elect.

Rodriquez then confronted the newly formed body and its leader, Senate President Myron Jackson. He sued in District Court, demanding he be seated.