June 21, 2006 – The renomination of Judge Ive A. Swan to serve on the V.I. Superior Court sailed through the Rules and Judiciary Committee meeting Wednesday and moved onto the full Legislative body for a final vote.
During the four-hour meeting, Swan – who has been a judge in the territory for the past 19 years – discussed a variety of topics ranging from judicial reform to mandatory sentencing and his previous rulings.
Throughout the process, however, Swan had a smile on his face, frequently laughed at senators' jokes and said after two rounds of questioning, "I'm actually having fun tonight."
Swan was serious, however, when senators asked his opinion on a bill appointing a permanent judge to serve in the Family Court Division in both districts (See "Bill to Strengthen Family Court Receives Strong Support").
Swan explained that while St. Croix already has a permanent Family Court judge, St. Thomas' system of rotating judges every year is "disruptive" and a "colossal waste of judicial time."
"With this system, there's an inordinate amount of time spent on gaining a certain amount of familiarity with the cases," he said. "For example, when I left the Family Court last year, another judge got my caseload and had to take the time to review it. When I go back in August, I now get his caseload and would need time to deal with that. There's no continuity with such a process, and the appointment of a permanent family judge is long overdue."
Swan was also asked to give his opinion on a law establishing a Supreme Court on St. Croix instead of St. Thomas. "If you look at the Organic Act, it states that the capital of the territory is St. Thomas," he said. "So if you're going to change something from the norm, give me a compelling basis for the change. Forty-five out of the 50 states have their Supreme Court in their capital and all the territories likewise follow the same policy. What is our basis for changing it?"
In response, Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville said that he would fight "tooth and nail" for the establishment of a Supreme Court on St. Croix, which he said would have an "aesthetic, sociological, emotional and historical impact on the people."
He added that St. Croix is "always deprived of having the best" and that families on the island should have "something there that they can be proud of."
Figueroa-Serville also told Swan he supported the development of an amendment to the Sunshine Act, which allows certain information from government departments and agencies to be made public. He explained that the "media" has used the act as a means of gaining information on government employees, such as their salaries and job titles.
Swan said that while the Legislature does have the ability to amend the law, such a decision "would most likely be challenged."
"Once you are a government employee, the public has a right to know certain information," he said. "And the Sunshine Act is very specific – it prohibits the disclosure of certain information like an employee's medical records. But the salary of an individual is fair game. The people of the V.I. pay my salary, and they're certainly entitled to know where their tax dollars are going."
Swan, however, was reluctant to discuss his views on capital punishment. "It's a catch-22," he said. "If I come out publicly and say I'm in favor of the death penalty, then tomorrow morning all the defense attorneys involved in capital punishment cases would demand I recuse myself," he said. "And if I say I'm not in favor, then the prosecuting attorneys would demand I recuse myself. In either case, I would be considered biased."
However, Swan said he was not in favor of mandatory sentencing in cases that do not involve first-degree murder. He explained that imposing a mandatory sentence on a defendant does not allow the judge to take into consideration the reasons that person committed the crime, cancels out the practice of plea bargaining and "takes away the possibility of rehabilitation" from the defendant.
"In short, [with mandatory sentencing] the judge's hands are tied," he said.
Swan also discussed the need for some judicial reform – including the development of a magistrate system where an official with limited legal authority would be able to handle misdemeanors, felonies, traffic cases, and advice of rights hearings, among other things. "These things do need to be taken care of, but every time a judge has to hear mundane and routine matters, it takes away from the time we could be using to deal with more substantive cases, such as those that require a jury trial."
Swan said the Senate should take action by passing a law implementing a magistrate system, and giving the power to appoint the magistrates to the presiding judge of the Superior Court.
At the end of the meeting, senators said that Swan had their "full support" and commended him on his "commitment to the people of the Virgin Islands."
And after the nomination was voted onto the full Senate body, Swan said, "In all the times I have come up for confirmation before the Legislature, I have never had a negative vote. I hope that record continues."
Present during Wednesday's hearing were Sens. Lorraine L. Berry, Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Figueroa-Serville, Louis P. Hill, Terrence "Positive" Nelson and Ronald E. Russell.
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