Sept. 21, 2006 — The Senate Rules Committee on Thursday unanimously approved three nominations submitted by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull. Sent on to the Oct. 8 Legislative session for further consideration were: Francis J. DEramo for V.I. Superior Court Judge, Dennis A. Howell to the Parole Board and Wallace W. Phaire Sr. to the Hospital Board.
Committee Chairman, Sen. Ronald E. Russell, prefaced the questioning of the nominees with information on the protocols associated with nominee selection. Russell said the procedure should not be antagonistic. "It is our responsibility to question you," Russell said, adding that the role of the Legislature in questioning nominees has in the past been "misunderstood."
DEramo had the attention of senators in attendance as they questioned his background and opinion on a variety of subjects. DEramo fielded questions on racial profiling; the rights of convicted persons after they have paid their debt to society; nepotism and favoritism in the judiciary; arbitration; the separation of judicial and legislative responsibilities; mandatory sentencing; disciplining children and a range of other topics.
Russell queried DEramo on his association with Beal Bank. Russell said he received complaints from constituents regarding DEramo, who was employed by Beal to handle loans bought by the bank.
In 2000, Texas banker and former space entrepreneur Andrew Beal purchased $1 billion in Small Business Administration disaster loans, $82 million of which are from the territory. Russell related that constituents felt DEramo "declined to consider hardships or establish payback programs with lenders."
DEramo replied that Beal "basically did what other banks did" in similar situations –work out payment plans and settle with clients. Some foreclosures did occur, DEramo said.
Speaking on DEramo's behalf a short time later, attorney and former Sen. Britain H. Bryant said DEramo should not be judged on who his former clients were.
DEramo said if nominated he would concentrate on increasing the efficiencies of the court and "attack the backlog" of cases. He added he did not believe the court needs radical reform.
"You have answered some hard questions and it's positive for you," Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville remarked. Among Serville's questions was an inquiry into DEramo's position on affirmative action, specifically if he thought the program had outlived its purpose. DEramo responded, he did not think it had.
DEramo revealed under questioning that he earned approximately $200,00 a year as a partner in the law firm of Nichols, Newman, Logan, DEramo and Grey, and he was willing to take a pay cut if nominated to the judiciary. "I would completely divest my interest in the firm," DEramo said.
After senators exhausted their inquiries, Russell called for persons who wanted to make statements for or against the nominees.
Attorney Jerry Groner remarked that in the past, appearances of nominees before the Legislature were contentious and that has "changed dramatically." "Tonight is a good example" of that change, he remarked. Groner vouched for DEramo saying he had a "good sense of justice."
Also approved were Phaire and Howell. Phaire, an instructor at St. Croix Career and Technical Education Center, has a vested interest in the territory's hospitals. He receives ongoing treatment for kidney problems. Phaire said his goal is to make the hospitals premier institutions. "My life depends on it," he said.
"I don't want to be an echo. I want to be a voice with new ideas," said Army Guardsman Command Warrant Officer Dennis Howell, who returned from Afghanistan to a hero's welcome in August 2005.
A recipient of the Bronze Star Medal and the Combat Action Badge, Howell voluntarily teaches college-level courses to incarcerated individuals. He said he is committed to serving on the Parole Board because "there are a lot of people waiting for their fate to be determined." Howell said he would administer the duties of parole board member free from prejudices or favoritism.
All nominees were sent on with a favorable recommendation to the full body with all senators present voting in favor.
The nominees had a chance to thank friends, family and members of the Legislature for supporting them in the process.
DEramo was pleased with the proceedings. "I really enjoyed the questioning, it was interesting," DEramo said.
Also present at the meeting were committee members Sens. Roosevelt C. David, Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion and noncommittee member Sen. Usie R. Richards. Committee member Lorraine L. Berry was excused.
The four-hour meeting was held at the St. Croix Legislative Conference Room.
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