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WARRING WORDS LEAD TO ACTION – AND REACTION

May 29, 2001 – In an otherwise only normally contentious Senate committee meeting Tuesday afternoon, a freshman senator exercised a rarely used privilege and kicked the attorney general of the Virgin Islands out of the Legislature's chambers on St. Thomas.
"You're a bully, but you're not going to bully me," Sen. Norma Pickard-Samuel, chair of the Labor and Veterans Affairs Committee, told Iver Stridiron. She directed the sergeant-at-arms: "Get him out of my committee."
Pickard-Samuel had earlier demanded to have Stridiron's microphone turned off when he tried to respond to allegations she was making about selective prosecution and "striking deals" within the V.I. Justice Department. Stridiron called the charges "nonsense," a response not to the senator's satisfaction.
"Turn this man's mike off. This is my committee, and I'll run it," Pickard-Samuel said before demanding Stridiron's ouster.
The exchange came during a Labor Department fact-finding hearing. It wasn't the first time the two have crossed swords. Pickard-Samuel has been trying to get Stridiron to give her information on a criminal investigation within the Labor Department that his department has been conducting.
Stridiron said Pickard-Samuel had written him asking for an update on the Labor Department case and he had written back twice saying he couldn't come before the Legislature and disclose findings of a criminal investigation. He said she had rejected his suggestion that they meet privately to discuss the matter. He said he had told her, "I'm not going to make haste in prosecuting people just because it inconveniences someone."
Later, Pickard-Samuel said her office had been getting a lot of complaints about the lack of closure on the Labor investigation and on another matter: That matter, she claimed, is that the teen-age son of a federal Drug Enforcement Administration agent in the territory has been accused of a sexual offense and is getting special treatment from Stridiron's office.
The youth is getting "diplomatic" treatment, Pickard-Samuel told the Source during a break in Tuesday's proceedings. "We can't have federal agents coming in with families acting like diplomats, thinking nothing can be done to them." She said the young man is being tried as a juvenile although he recently turned 18. "What they're doing is wrong," she said, "when other young men here would get sentenced to 10 years in prison."
Pickard-Samuel wouldn't reveal her sources but said, "You know I check my facts before I open my mouth."
During the committee session, she announced that she is writing to Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole, Government Operations, Planning and Environmental Protection Committee chair, asking him to call the Justice Department before his committee for an investigation. In addition, she said, she is writing to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull and to the DEA office in Washington, D.C., with her allegations of V.I. Justice Department wrongdoing.
At the start of the committee's afternoon session, she acknowledged the presence of her father in the gallery and remarked, "My mother called and told me to mind my manners."
Her mother would find Stridiron in agreement. He told the Source later, "I do apologize to the people of this territory for the activity going on in this Legislature, but I don't apologize to Senator Samuel. She is becoming a loose cannon, maligning people, telling the executive branch how to do their jobs." He accused her of "browbeating" acting Labor Commissioner Cecil Benjamin in allowing a Labor employee "to sit and read into the record a 15-page document containing spurious remarks about him."
Stridiron continued, "I don't mind when she talks about how long the Labor Department investigation is taking, but when she launches into making statements that my lawyers are selective in prosecuting a case, I will not stand by. She defames them for her own political advancement, and that ticks me off. To suggest we engage in selective prosecution is just simply flat-out wrong."
He added, "In the case that she mentioned on the floor of the Legislature — which she never should have done — we made a plea offer. We could have charged him as an adult, as he just turned 18, but we charged him as a minor. We agonize over these charges, and we do not look at the parentage of the people involved. We look at it from the point of view of the victim and the victim's family." The defendant, he said, "isn't going to walk away from this. He will be on probation until he is 21. The judge could even send him to the YRC [the Youth Rehabilitation Center] on St. Croix."
Stridiron said he would welcome an investigation of his department by the Government Operations Committee. "I would really appreciate the chairman [Cole] calling for a meeting and inviting me and my lawyers and anybody else," the attorney general said. "We need to let people know what we do in a public hearing."
He also announced he would hold a press conference at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
Stridiron further criticized Pickard-Samuel's behavior in another setting. "In an amicable St. John hearing to resolve a problem about a gate put up on national park land recently, she said there would 'be bloodshed before this is over,'" he stated. Pickard-Samuel, he said, "needs to take a step back from her position as a senator and re-evaluate what she is doing, what her role is supposed to be — or heaven help us all for the next year and a half. And you may quote me."
Stridiron, who served six years in the Senate, one of them as president (succeeding the late Ruby Rouss in mid-term), and another four years as legislative legal counsel, expressed concern for the body. "I know it is not most of the senators who conduct themselves that way," he said. "I saw some of them today shaking their heads."

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