Dec. 11, 2003 The battle between Caribbean Sun Airlines and the V.I. government over the airline's right to operate in the territory under its own name continued Thursday with each side scoring a point.
Tom Bolt, the airline's attorney, secured a 10-day reprieve Wednesday in a temporary restraining order against the government granted by District Court Judge Thomas Moore. The judge's ruling allows the company to operate without the lieutenant governor's approval until a Dec. 17 court hearing, when the matter will be decided.
Moore granted a 10-day continuance at the request of Assistant Attorney General Kerry Drue, who explained the government had had only a half hour's notice on Wednesday to prepare a rebuttal to the injunction.
Thursday, Lt. Governor Vargrave Richards made public an opinion he had received from Attorney General Iver Stridiron upholding Richards' decision to deny Caribbean Sun Airlines' operation in the territory because its name is too similar to Sun Airways and Caribbean Airline Acquisitions.
Bolt was aghast at Stridiron's opinion, saying, "I can't believe he was in the same courtroom yesterday when the judge went through the various applicable statutes. I cannot believe he would come to the conclusion that he has." Stridiron was in the audience at Thursday's court hearing for the temporary restraining order.
"The law is clear," Bolt said Thursday. "There is no ambiguity, and Caribbean Sun Airlines has complied with all provisions of the law. There is no question; because that (the name similarity) doesn't apply to foreign corporations, the judge said. I know of no grounds for this opinion."
Moore's ruling states in part: "the statute cited as the reason for denial (by the Lt. Governor) is applicable only to the requirements for incorporation domestic corporations in the V. I., not the registration."
Moore further stated, "the refusal by the Lt. Governor would unreasonably burden interstate commerce protected by the U. S. Constitution."
Stridiron's opinion issued to Richards states: "The short answer to whether the Division of Corporations can refuse to register a foreign corporation on the basis that the name is similar to the name of a domestic or foreign corporation already admitted to do business in the Virgin Islands is 'yes'."
However, it's not that simple. Stridiron's four-page opinion says that "the determination of whether the name of the new corporation is similar to previously admitted corporation is discretionary." Hence, Stridiron says, "your decision to or not to grant the request would be measured by the legal standard of whether the decision was arbitrary or capricious."
Stridiron concludes that the decision was not "arbitrary, but to the contrary, made after fully considering the facts." Stridiron said Thursday. "With all legal disputes there are two sides, and that's basically what has happened. I'm sure Mr. Bolt believes his client is completely in the right, and the Lt. Governor believes he has the discretion (to have made his decision)."
However, Stridiron said, "I am hopeful it can be resolved amicably, and the two corporations will get together and settle out of court. Otherwise, it will be resolved by the courts."
Bolt was not feeling "amicable" about an offer received Monday from Sun Airways attorney Derek Hodge. "It's a ransom note," he said Thursday.
The offer asks "Stanford interests" (Texas millionaire Allan Stanford owns Caribbean Sun Airlines), to give Sun Airways undisputed ownership of its name, in all jurisdictions. Sun Airways and Trafalgar Holdings, Inc. would have control of the name, and would lease it back to Caribbean Sun Airways on a yearly basis at a price to be negotiated.
According to the offer, Caribbean Sun would also pay court costs for disputes for cases now in Puerto Rico courts. Stanford would also reimburse Sun Airways $20,000 in legal fees and expenses incurred.
In addition, Stanford would withdraw its pending registration application with the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office.
"They must think we just bounced off the turnip truck," Bolt said. "You give us your name, and pay $20,000 in court cost, and we'll lease your name back to you every year."
Bolt said Caribbean Sun Airlines has won at every phase of the continuing court battle between the two corporations in Puerto Rico. "I think the judge is favorably disposed to render a judgment in our favor by the end of this month," he said.
Hodge was not available for comment at press time, but said he would return a call later in the day.
In the meantime, Caribbean Sun has set up its counters at the King and Rohlsen airports. However, Bolt said the airline would probably not start service until Monday because it had been forced to accommodate its booked passengers on other carriers until it legally can commence operations.
Winston Lewis, a Stanford Financial Group employee, was manning the Caribbean Sun booth at King on Thursday morning. According to Lewis, the day was not as eventful as Wednesday when Lewis said the V.I. Port Authority police had told the airline's employees to stop working. Although Lewis added, "They were very nice."
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