Going into a Thursday hearing over the April 8 special election, the lawyer representing the district elections board and even the plaintiff herself thought it was an exercise in futility.
That changed when Superior Court Judge Kathleen Mackay asked a question: If the Legislature were to decide they were not going to seat Mr. Rodriquez, then would the board certify the result of the April 8 election?
Moments later, the chairman of the St. Thomas-St. John Board of Elections left the courtroom. The board’s attorney, Julita de Leon, took a few minutes to answer the judge’s question.
Finally the answer came. “If one is disqualified, then there is no reason not to certify the election,” she said.
The hearing was being held in response to a motion for a writ of mandamus filed by Janelle Sarauw, winner of the special election to fill a vacant seat in the 32nd Legislature. Sarauw was one of 13 candidates competing for a seat in the St. Thomas-St. John district on April 8.
Gov. Kenneth Mapp called for a special election on Feb. 7.
In her filing, Sarauw asked the court to compel the board to certify the election results. In May they decided not to, saying the Nov. 8 General Election results – in which Rodriquez won a sixth district seat out of seven up for grabs – was certified already.
Sarauw’s attorney, Terri Griffiths, criticized the board for their stance.
“If they were going to say ‘we are not going to follow the governor’s proclamation,’ they should have said so,” Griffiths said.
She also said allowing the April 8 election to remain uncertified hurts the public interest and undermines public confidence in the election process.
The motion for emergency relief was filed in part with Sarauw saying that without a court directive to certify the special election Rodriquez could be seated and the board could get away without performing an important ministerial function of office.
The plaintiff’s lawyer added that since 2012, when the V.I. Supreme Court won standing to have its cases heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, its ruling had comparable legal weight as those of the Third Circuit. Court of Appeals.
Rodriquez was enjoined by the Virgin Islands Supreme Court one day before a public swearing in ceremony was held on Jan. 9, the day the 32nd Legislature formally began. He sued the Legislature and Senate President Myron Jackson in federal court Jan. 10 to compel lawmakers to seat him.
A three-judge panel of the Third Circuit upheld the dismissal of a case filed by Rodriquez in St. Thomas District Court. Their ruling also said it was up to the Legislature to decide Rodriquez’s standing as a member.
Hearings on the matter are scheduled to begin Tuesday in the Legislature.
“In standing here today we do not accept the Third Circuit opinion as the supreme law of the land,” Griffiths said.
But she retreated a bit from the motion’s demands when Mackay asked if Sarauw wanted the court to act contrary to the Third Circuit ruling.
“What are you suggesting here, that I overrule the Third Circuit?” the judge said.
Griffiths said her client would drop the second demand in the motion, that the court order Rodriquez’s certification rescinded.
“Let the Legislation complete its process,” she said.
De Leon said matters related to the certification of the Nov. 8 election were settled in the federal appeals court ruling.
“I think this is an exercise in futility because of the Third Circuit ruling,” she said.
The board’s attorney also asserted the belief that it could not be in the public interest to force the board to pick sides over which of two candidates should fill the seventh district seat.
Mackay said she would take the matter under advisement. She also told Griffiths it was unlikely the ruling would come before the Legislature holds its Tuesday hearing.