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HomeNewsArchivesLAWYER SAYS PERCEPTION COMMENT MISPERCEIVED

LAWYER SAYS PERCEPTION COMMENT MISPERCEIVED

June 24, 2001 – Tom Bolt, president-elect of the V.I. Bar Association, over the weekend defended remarks he had made at a Friday judicial conference that sparked a sharp rejoinder at the forum from the territory's top judge.
Speaking in a question-and-answer session at the 2001 Virgin Islands Judicial Conference at the Marriott Frenchman's Reef Beach Resort, Bolt had said he believes there is a public perception that persons "born here" have an edge over those who are not born here, and that this could affect public trust in the courts.
Territorial Court Presiding Judge Maria Cabret openly took Bolt to task at the conference for his remark.
Bolt told the Source Saturday that Cabret mistakenly thought that "I believed that." In fact, he said, "Nothing could be further from the truth. I was saying we may have a problem with what the public perceives."
Bolt was adamant about his own beliefs. "I will be the first to defend the judiciary, as a member of the bar, from accusations like that," he said. As president of the bar association, he added, he will "zealously defend the judiciary and its independence."
The theme of the Friday conference was "Continuing the Quest for Excellence: Public Trust and Confidence in the Courts." The program featured a panel of local legal experts including U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Resnick and Territorial Court Judge Rhys Hodge, according to a published report in The Avis.
Wilma A. Lewis, former U.S. attorney for the District of Colombia and a native Virgin Islander, was the keynote speaker. According to The Avis, Lewis told the group, "The image that is portrayed to the public of our legal system is as much defined by our actions as everything else."
She chastised certain members of the legal profession for not following appropriate standards, saying, "I think it is possible to be aggressive without being nasty. It is possible to be effective without being a pit bull."
The judiciary's own perceptions of the news media made for animated discussion during the panel discussion, according the newspaper. Harold Willocks, chief public defender, said media representatives often don't have a grasp of issues surrounding cases they report on. And Resnick suggested that closing court proceedings to the media and the public may in fact create a public perception of "wrongdoing" going on behind closed doors.
Maria Tankenson Hodge, like Bolt a St. Thomas attorney in private practice, suggested the development of a non-partisan forum to help explain the judicial process to the media, The Avis said.
Territorial Court Judge Ishmael Meyers as well as Cabret took issue with Bolt's remarks, for which Bolt offered an apology on Friday at the conference. Bolt said Saturday the apology was for the misperception of the intent of his remarks.
Bolt represented the V.I. Bar Association in the American Bar Association's House of Delegates from 1989 until last summer, when he began a three-year term as an at-large delegate, the first V.I. lawyer elected by the general ABA membership to national office. He is active in the 400,000-member association's Individual Rights and Responsibilities Section and is a member of its Committee on Continuing Legal Education.
He told the Source he plans to propose that the local bar association sponsor a summit on the judiciary system that will feature a citizens' forum aimed at making the judiciary more accessible to the public. "We would teach aspects of law and have a judicial branch review," he said, "and we could prepare a press information package."
There have been cases locally where a judgment has been held up by a pending motion for as long as seven years, he said, and probate matters involving small estates can take years to adjudicate. It is no wonder the public sometimes wonders what goes on in the judicial system, he said.

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