Based on his reading of a recent V.I. District Court ruling, senator-elect Kevin Rodriquez again called for the Legislature to seat him, saying that Judge Curtis Gomez didn’t specifically address issues relating to his eligibility to run for office and that the Legislature, in not swearing Rodriquez in, violated Constitutional due process laws.
In a letter sent Friday to Senate President Myron Jackson, Rodriquez called for the Legislature to convene in Committee of the Whole and consider a bill that would determine whether or not to seat him. Rodriquez said that the charges against him must be included in the bill, and that he and his attorney must be allowed to answer any questions from senators on the charges before a vote is taken.
Rodriquez wrote that the Senate’s decision to let the matter play out in court also violated his due process rights because not all senators were involved in the decision-making process. Instead, he said that the Senate’s majority caucused, consulted outside legal counsel and decided, without its minority colleagues, on a course of action without notifying the public.
Rodriquez noted that the Legislature’s own legal counsel had issued a different opinion, which he said “supported seating me as a member of the 32nd Legislature.”
“It was only when minority senator Tregenza Roach issued a press release that the public became aware that the minority senators were never consulted, nor were they involved in the decisions governing this matter,” Rodriquez wrote. “If you have not voted to make me a member, then the governor cannot trigger … a special election.”
Gov. Kenneth Mapp’s call for a special election came after Gomez last week issued an opinion dismissing two suits – one filed by Rodriquez and the other by former senatorial candidate Janelle Sarauw – and left in place only a V.I. Supreme Court ruling that maintains Rodriquez does not meet V.I. residency requirements.
Rodriquez came in sixth in November’s election to fill seven St. Thomas-St. John legislative seats and the St. Thomas-St. John Board of Elections certified his candidacy and the final vote.
But in December, the eighth-place candidate, Janelle Sarauw, joined by a campaign worker, sued in V.I. Superior Court to stop Rodriquez from being seated, arguing that Rodriquez had asserted in court documents filed in 2016 that he was a bona fide resident of Tennessee and therefore could not meet the three-year V.I. residency requirement set by V.I. law. The initial ruling from Superior Court Judge Kathleen Mackay was in favor of Rodriquez, but her ruling was overturned days later by the V.I. Supreme Court, which determined that in his bankruptcy petition, Rodriquez swore under penalty of perjury that he lived in Tennessee and had not lived in another state anytime during the preceding three years.
It applied the doctrine of “judicial estoppel,” saying that Rodriquez’s claim under oath in one court prevented him from claiming the opposite in another court.
Rodriquez filed to have the case moved to federal court and argued that the Revised Organic Act, the federal law that acts as a constitution for the territory, gives the Legislature final authority over who is qualified to sit. Rodriquez also sued the Legislature, requesting it seat him.
The Legislature, through Senate President Jackson, has twice said that it would not take on the matter, which Gomez in his opinion said should have shown Rodriquez that “a path to membership in the Legislature was not assured.”
“As the Legislature has taken no action to consider whether Rodriquez is entitled to membership, his claim is both procedurally novel and legally wanting,” Gomez wrote. “At its core, he seeks to have this court command action on the part of a co-equal and coordinate branch of government – the Legislature – to seat him. That action is exclusively within the province and discretion of that branch. The court cannot cross that line.”
While Gomez said this reasoning compelled him to dismiss Rodriquez’s suit, he also noted that the V.I .Supreme Court in its opinion said that the V.I. Superior Court had not to date “expressly identified the precise legal basis” for Sarauw’s challenge to Rodriquez’s eligibility. Because that suit was brought post-election and post-certification, the “absence of that legal basis is fatal” to Sarauw’s claim, Gomez wrote.
Though there are still technical issues to resolve, the St. Thomas-St. John District Board of Elections is now looking at April 8 as the date for the special election, which Rodriquez said in his letter would cost the territory “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Rodriquez said that instead of spending the money, the Legislature should work on settling the matter “fairly and amicably.” There has been no response yet from Jackson’s camp, but it appears from the Election System’s view that, given the legal issues that have arisen since he was elected, Rodriquez might not be able to run in the special election. Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes said recently that she would have to consult an attorney before deciding whether Rodriquez can put his hat into the ring again.