Sept. 3, 2003 – Leon Kendall received Senate approval on Wednesday to sit on the St. Thomas Territorial Court bench recently vacated with the retirement of Judge Ishmael Meyers.
The governor's nominations of Kendall and four other persons headed the full Senate's two-day agenda, which also included 14 rezoning and variance applications, two Community Development Block Grant allocation bills, a resolution to name the new St. Thomas cancer center in honor of Charlotte Kimelman and another marking the 50th anniversary of the St. Thomas Federal Credit Union.
Although Kendall's nomination didn't generate as much controversy on the Senate floor as before the Rules Committee last month, and took about half the time (two hours), he was not without his detractors on Wednesday. (See "Kendall nomination moved to full Senate".)
The discord on the Senate floor was not reflected in the visitors' area of the chambers, however. The benches were filled with about 20 family members and well-wishers who surrounded him after his nomination was approved.
Kendall, 57, a graduate of Howard University and Howard University Law School, has been practicing law for nearly 30 years in local and federal capacities. He has been general counsel to the Territorial Court for 15 years and served for many of those years under then-Chief Judge Verne Hodge.
Hodge, now retired, strongly endorsed Kendall at the Rules Committee hearing and was sharply critical of a V.I. Bar Association poll in which the majority of respondents did not rate Kendall as highly qualified or qualified for the bench, according to Joel Holt, chair of the group's Judiciary Committee.
Short shrift was given to the poll during Wednesday's deliberations. Senators focused mainly on Kendall's experience, along with the failure of Hodge's successor, Presiding Judge Maria Cabret, to endorse his nomination. Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg said he had spoken to Cabret and she "said nothing bad." As for the Bar Association poll, Donastorg said the lawyers responding "did more damage to themselves" than to Kendall.
Sen. Roosevelt David, Rules Committee chair, introduced Kendall's nomination in glowing terms, calling the nominee "cleaner than Caesar's wife." Calling Kendall's record "impeccable," he cited letters of recommendation from Judge Meyers; Elliott "Mac" Davis, V.I. solicitor general; Territorial Judges Rhys Hodge and Audrey Thomas; and private-sector lawyers J. Brion Morrisette and Andrew Capdeville.
At the Rules hearing, Kendall had said he found it puzzling that Cabret had not endorsed his nomination. "It came as a big shock when I found out she was opposed to my nomination," he said then, especially as Cabret had gone on record "to support me for U.S. attorney."
Sen. Emmett Hansen II took issue with Verne Hodge's support of Kendall at the Rules Committee meeting. "You don't come from retirement to berate your successor," Hansen said. "If you are retired, let those who work do their job."
Opposition based on inexperience
Sens. Lorraine Berry and Ronald Russell stuck by their guns on Wednesday. They cast the only dissenting votes at the Rules hearing. Neither senator believes Kendall has the requisite trial experience to qualify him for the bench.
Russell, the only current senator who is an lawyer, had grilled Kendall at the hearing, eliciting responses that as an attorney he had never tried a murder case, been before a jury in the Virgin Islands or represented a private citizen in a criminal or civil trial. Russell said Kendall's appointment would be "undermining the presiding judge sitting in St. Croix."
Berry said the lawmakers have a "duty to question nominees. It is an important responsibility for us to ascertain their philosophy. We can't impeach; we don't have the rigorous standards other jurisdictions have."
She said practical experience is important, adding, "I think Mr. Kendall would be better suited as a general counsel. I will vote against his nomination in principal."
Kendall was born in Guyana and his not being a native Virgin Islander was raised at the Rules hearing. Little mention was made of it Wednesday, although Sen. Usie Richards commented: "Don't include me in any 'born here' discussion. It took me five elections to get here, and I'm not changing."
Senate President David Jones endorsed Kendall, saying his nomination had generated "healthy discussion" and that he has "impeccable" qualifications. Jones drew laughter when he added: "Kendall has a law degree from a brick and mortar building, not purchased online on the Internet."
The nomination was approved on a 10-4 vote. Sens. Douglas Canton Jr., David, Donastorg, Carlton Dowe, Louis Hill, Jones, Norman Jn Baptiste, Shawn-Michael Malone, Luther Renee and Celestino A. White Sr. were in favor. Sens. Berry, Hansen, Richards and Russell cast the dissenting votes.
Shaking hands with all of the senators afterward, Kendall was good natured. "Dissent is one of the hallmarks of democracy," he said. "I have had battles in court and this process is no different."
With little discussion, the senators approved the other four nominations, lauding the nominees, but directing their energies toward other issues, primarily the governor's recent tax package. Approved were:
– Maj. Aubrey L. Ruan Jr. to serve on the V.I. Military Museum and Veterans Memorial Complex board.
– Alphonso Franklin to serve another term on the Water and Power Authority governing board.
– Mel Plaskett to serve on the Board of Tax Review.
– James I. Rodgers to serve on the Port Authority board of governors.
Hill called on Gov. Charles W. Turnbull to send down nominees to fill other vacancies on the Tax Review Board. "Nothing has happened in the last four years that the board has been in place," he said. "It is critically important to reform our tax laws. There are federal mandates to have our tax system in place, and we haven't done it."
Berry and Malone agreed. "Send more nominees to get the full complement," Malone said. "That's the bottom line."
Berry also said the Roy L. Schneider Hospital board is in desperate need of nominees. Since the Legislature rejected the nomination of Horace Brooks, the governor's confidential assistant, no other nominees have been submitted.
All zoning requests approved
All 14 rezoning and zoning variance applications were approved, most of them with little debate.
As anticipated, Bill 25-0085, seeking rezoning for the proposed Golden Gaming resort and casino complex on land at Great Pond on St. Croix, provoked long and heated debate. In the end, the request was approved on a 10-3- vote. In favor were Sens. Berry, Canton, David, Dowe, Hansen, Jones, Jn Baptiste, Malone, Renee and White. Opposed were Sens. Donastorg, Richards and Russell. Hill did not vote.
A detailed account of the debate on the Great Pond rezoning will be posted on the Source on Thursday.
The St. Croix rezoning and variance bills approved were:
No. 25-0070 – rezoning Parcel No. 303 and 303A Estate Barren Spot, from R-2 (residential – low density, one- and two-family) to R-3 (residential – medium density).
No. 25-0072 – rezoning Plot No. 149 Estate Barren Spot, from R-2 to B-3 (business – scattered).
No. 25-0073 – rezoning Plot Nos. 3 and 3A Estate Hartmanns, from A-1 (agriculture) to B-3.
No. 25-0079 – rezoning Plot No. 4N Estate Sion Farm, from R-2 to B-2 (business – secondary/neighborhood).
No. 25-0080 – rezoning Plot No. 4KA Estate Sion Farm, from R-2 to B-2.
No. 25-0084 – variance for the remainder of Estate Castle Coakley, to operate an animal shelter, flea market and gift shop.
No. 25-0085 – rezon
ing in Estate Hartmanns, a portion of Matricular No. 53 from R-2 to R-3; a portion of Matricular No. 54 from A-1 to R-3; a portion of Matricular No. 55 from R-2 to R-3; and a portion of Matricular No. 55 from A-1 to R-3.
The St. Thomas rezoning and variance bills approved were:
No. 25-0071 – rezoning Parcel No. 2-1 Estate Mariendahl, from R-2 to B-3.
No. 25-0074 – rezoning Parcel No. 7 Estate Agnes Fancy, from R-1 (residential – low density) to R-2.
No. 25-0075 – rezoning Parcel No. 32B Estate Frydendahl, from B-4 (business – residential areas) to B-3.
No. 25-0076 – rezoning Parcel No. 33-139 Estate Nadir, from R-2 to S (special); and Parcel Nos. 178-230 and 178-231 and a portion of No. 178 remainder Estate Altona and Welgunst, from R-4 (residential – medium density) to S.
No. 25-0077 – variance for Parcel Nos. A-2 and A-1-A Estate Thomas and No. 6K New Quarter for operating Kazi Management Inc.
No. 25-0078 – rezoning Parcel No. 52-3, 52-3A and 52 remainder Estate Frydendahl, from R-2 to B-3.
The Senate unanimously approved a resolution honoring and commending the charter members and employees of the St. Thomas Federal Credit Union on the occasion of the entity's 50th anniversary of service to the members and the community.
Wednesday's deliberations ended at about 8 p.m. The session will reconvene at 10 a.m. Thursday to consider the 2003 Community Development Block Grant awards and a resolution to name the new cancer center at Schneider Hospital in honor of Charlotte Kimelman.
Jones said any amendments to be offered will be attached to the CDBG allocation bills. There was no mention of what the amendments will concern, but it is unlikely they will contain appropriations. Turnbull at a press conference last Friday made it clear he will not tolerate any appropriations for which there is no money. And the administration has made it equally clear for several months that there is no money.
All senators were present Wednesday except for Almando "Rocky" Liburd, who was excused.
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name, and the city and state/country or island where you reside.
Publisher's note : Like the St. Thomas Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.