While a lawsuit challenging the eligibility of senator-elect Kevin Rodriquez is still ongoing, a preliminary injunction that would keep him from taking his oath of office in January was granted this week by V.I. Superior Court Judge Kathleen Mackay.
A lawsuit filed in late November challenged Rodriquez’s eligibility based on bankruptcy filings made in Tennessee, which St. Thomas resident Brigitte Berry and Senate hopeful Janelle Sarauw said shows that Rodriquez has not met the local residency requirements for running for public office.
According to the claims and court documents, Rodriquez filed for bankruptcy in January 2016 and gave a Nashville address as his place of residence.
Court documents show that Rodriquez and his wife Kimberly have not owned their house in Tennessee since 2014 and were involved in a suit against Citigroup, which bought the property at auction. In the suit, Berry and Sarauw assert that the most recent 2016 filing conflicts with the V.I. law requiring all candidates seeking a Senate seat to have lived in the territory at least three years prior to running.
Rodriquez has challenged the claims in statements, saying that he has been a St. Thomas resident for the past three-plus years.
“I have been employed in St. Thomas since January 2013, my taxes for 2013, 2014 and 2015 were filed in the Virgin Islands in accordance with the Internal Revenue Code, and I voted in the 2014 and 2016 elections,” Rodriquez said in a December statement. “I was thoroughly vetted by the Virgin Islands Board of Elections and deemed qualified to run for office.”
But the question that seems to be raised by the bankruptcy filing is which residence Rodriquez has actually claimed; according to campaign filings with the Elections System, Rodriquez has also listed an Anna’s Retreat residence on St. Thomas, which is also included as an asset in the January bankruptcy filings.
Mackay’s ruling, released Thursday, also raised the same question and said there is evidence on both sides.
“In this instance, it is not clear if Rodriquez paid rent while he occupies this family property, but Rodriquez has no responsibility for payment of any mortgage on the family property,” Mackay wrote about the Anna’s Retreat residence. “Furthermore, while his mortgage on the Tennessee home evidences an intent to reside there long-term, his interest in the Anna’s Retreat property may evidence an intent to remain in St. Thomas long-term. Consequently, this housing factor does not weigh heavily for or against Rodriquez’s bona fide residency in the Virgin Islands.”
Mackay added, however, that Rodriquez worked as contract employee for Hope Inc. between January 2013 and April 2015 and that tax forms from the job list the Tennessee address, where his wife and children still live. Mackay said that while the evidence “suggests that Rodriquez mostly sustained a physical presence in the territory since January 2013,” he also did not register to vote until May 2014 or get a V.I. driver’s license until July 2016.
The judge also explained that while the V.I. Code does not define the term “bona fide resident,” it is up to the court to determine the intent. In filing the suit, the plaintiffs don’t have to show that they will actually win the case, but rather, have the possibility of winning, she added.
“The court finds that the evidence regarding Rodriquez’s social, family and professional relationships cuts against a bona fide residency,” Mackay wrote.