The courts have the final say on what the law means, Senate President Myron Jackson said in a response to minority senators who want the Senate to weigh in on whether Senate candidate Kevin Rodriquez or special election victor Janelle Sarauw should be seated to represent St. Thomas/St. John.
The issue arises in the wake of confusion and legal dispute over the 2016 senatorial election and a subsequent special election. The St. Thomas/St. John Board of Elections certified candidate Kevin Rodriquez as one of the seven winners for that district, based upon his vote total. But a Sarauw, who finished just behind him in the vote count, challenged his eligibility in court. The challenge revealed he had filed court papers in another state claiming residency there shortly prior to the election. The V.I. Supreme Court ruled Rodriquez was estopped – legally prevented from claiming to be a lawful V.I. resident because of his filing sworn documents in another district.
A special election to fill the seat was held April 8 and Sarauw won. But the St. Thomas/St. John board has so far declined to certify the results out of confusion over whether they need to decertify Rodriquez first or if the Legislature, which is given authority to determine who is qualified to be a candidate, needs to act.
Thursday, Sens. Tregenza Roach, Janette Millin Young and Dwayne DeGraff requested a legislative legal opinion to determine what action the Legislature should take if the Board of Elections does not certify the results of the 2017 Special Election.
In a statement, Jackson said the three are “misleading the public into believing the 32nd Legislature could have stripped the local and federal courts of their authority to determine the dispute” over Rodriquez’ eligibility.
“Senator-Elect Janelle K. Sarauw and Brigette Berry initiated their action against Mr. Rodriquez and others prior to the formation of the 32nd Legislature of the Virgin Islands. Therefore, the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands and later the Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands had the authority to consider the issues raised in that action, and their authority was continuous and ongoing even after the 32nd Legislature was formed,” Jackson said in a statement.
“Any effort by the 32nd Legislature to insert itself in the dispute by seating Mr. Rodriquez would have resulted in two co-equal branches of government addressing the same issue concerning Mr. Rodriquez’s qualifications and ability to serve. The second round of litigation that would have most surely ensued when any Virgin Islands taxpayer challenged the seating of Mr. Rodriquez would have further muddled an already complicated controversy,” he said.
More lawsuits over the same issue raised in Sarauw’s suit would cause the vacant seat in the St. Thomas-St. John district to remain vacant long after the time allotted for calling a special election, Jackson said.
“Senator Roach, in his public announcement of a routine internal request for a legal opinion, neglects to tell the public that the courts have spoken. The Virgin Islands Supreme Court, the highest court of this territory, held that Mr. Rodriquez is judicially estopped from asserting he was a resident of the Virgin Islands for at least three consecutive years preceding the general election. The District Court of the Virgin Islands then concluded that no court, including the District Court, could force the 32nd Legislature to seat Mr. Rodriquez. Finally, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals denied Mr. Rodriquez’s request to stop the special election and later denied his request to stop the certification of the special election,” Jackson said.
“Therefore, there is no impediment to the certifying the special election. The Board of Elections needs to do the job it is statutorily mandated to do, which is to certify the special election,” he concluded.