The Organic Act allows the Virgin Islands Judiciary to create a Supreme Court. The Virgin Islands government, in its present organizational structure, has existed for fifty years without a Supreme Court and somehow has muddled through. I, for one, don't understand the sense of urgency to get it created so quickly and why Gov. Turnbull had to call a special meeting to have judges confirmed when the court doesn't even exist. I certainly can understand the need to sit justices now within the same facilities that the superior court utilizes and should, since the justices have been appointed and approved.
The governor has sued the legislative branch asking that the proposed Supreme Court not be located on St Croix, but rather at the seat of government on St Thomas. Sen. Russell chose to sue the governor stating that he, the governor, filed in the wrong court. Sen. Russell was denied his motion and the case is still pending. Sen. Russell seems to have a sour-grapes problem with the ruling since it was handed down by Judge Leon Kendall, a Turnbull appointee. I believe Sen. Russell should look a bit more closely at the Organic Act and realize that we have a separation of powers. Yes, Judge Kendall was appointed by the governor but was also approved by the senate, the same senate that Mr. Russell sits on. From that point on, he is in the judiciary regardless of who appointed or approved him. To think otherwise, is tantamount to saying that the judicial branch cannot be trusted to be non-partisan, which it must be.
And why did the legislature approve of the new supreme court nominees when they have no place to work and why did it have to be done in special session? Since appointed, does the ten-year term begin at that point and if so are the new judges getting paid and/or piling up retirement benefits for doing nothing? In December, Judge Kendall will rule on the governor's motion to not allow the Supreme Court on St Croix. Regardless of his decision, it seems the battle will continue long past the 26th legislature and maybe we should get the 27th legislature to sort it out, along with the new governor. For now, since we have sitting justices, let's get them working toward the formation of the court and use any existing facilities we already have until the bickering is over. We have already wasted enough taxpayer money.
When we consider that much of all this ado may be moot in a year because we may just have a new Constitution which would better define the Supreme Court and the subordinate courts. The Constitutional Convention will commence next July and has a year to create a document that will define forever the three branches of government provided it is accepted by the electorate. I know we cannot stop the progress of government but we should not be considering massive changes in how we operate without considering of the new Constitution could make all the laws we have now- inoperable.
This latest round of last-minute modifications to existing law, through the Omnibus Act and other sweeping changes, some of which are good legislation, may be an exercise in futility if those changes do not measure up to the proposed Constitution.
I suggest we stop arguing and look more closely at the real issues like education, roads, economic growth and tourism. The 26th legislature and the present governor have left too many issues pending that the next governor and legislature must sort out. I am confident that they will but it certainly draws time away from the really important issues.
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