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Former V.I. Judge Could Face Trial for Contempt of Court

Weeks after conducting a special show-cause hearing, a special magistrate for the territory’s highest court has said that government prosecutors demonstrated sufficient cause to charge former Superior Court Judge Leon Kendall with contempt of court and obstruction of justice during judicial proceedings leading to trial in the 2007 murder of V.I. Police officer Ariel Frett.
In an unpublished 34-page order issued May 4 that continues making rounds through the legal community this week, Judge Edgar D. Ross, special master of the V.I. Supreme Court, proposed that the court deny Kendall’s motions for acquittal and for mistrial and found that Kendall made “inflammatory remarks” regarding the high court and demonstrated “willful disrespect.”
The charges against Kendall stem from a scathing legal opinion he wrote in July objecting to a Supreme Court ruling that overturned decisions he made during the case of Basheem Ford and Jermaine Paris, who were both charged in Frett’s death.
Kendall recused himself from the case, citing a conflict with prosecutor Jesse Bethel that he said made it impossible for him to hold a fair and speedy trial. While he jumped out of the trial, he landed in hot water with the high court, and the V.I. Attorney General sought to censure him with contempt charges.
Ross’s May 4 order leaves it to Kendall to either present a case in his own defense or to allow the facts to go before a jury where the threshold of proof would be “beyond a reasonable doubt,” rather than “in a light most favorable to the People,” as in the prima facie decision. Kendall has until mid-June to decide.
According to Ross’s order, Kendall used “contumacious speech” toward the high court in his July 7 opinion. As defined by Webster’s, “contumacious” means “stubbornly disobedient” or “rebellious.”
“Looking at the evidence in the light most favorable to the People,” Ross writes in his order, “the People have presented a prima facie case that Judge Kendall has obstructed the administration of justice through inflammatory remarks and other characterizations in his July 7, 2009 opinion that appear calculated and intended to prejudice the Virgin Islands Supreme Court in public estimation, to destroy or call into doubt this Court’s function and position as the highest court in the Virgin Islands, and to reduce confidence in the administration of justice in this jurisdiction….”
The order details 10 points to support the decision to uphold the charges of contempt and obstruction of justice.
The case of Ford and Paris troubled Kendall from the start. And it may seem ironic that his legal woes continue while those of the two murder suspects have ended. Ford was killed in another shooting before he could face trial, while Paris was acquitted by a jury last month.
Kendall and his legal team had first asked the Supreme Court Justices to recuse themselves from hearing the contempt charges, but then complained that the justices were not all present to hear the case once it came before Judge Ross in April.
If held in contempt, or if he believes that the Supreme Court’s show-cause hearing was unfair, Kendall could still appeal to the U.S. Circuit Court.

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