AG's office scrambles to reassign dozens of cases
Published: February 22, 2014
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ST. CROIX - V.I. Superior Court Judge Harold Willocks has given the Attorney General's Office two weeks to reassign more than 20 cases that have been left in limbo while an assistant attorney general has gone on leave.
During a long calendar of status conferences on a number of cases Friday, Assistant Attorney General Charlotte Poole Davis informed the court that she is representing the Attorney General's Office, but in a limited capacity, regarding cases that previously had been assigned to Assistant Attorney General Kip Roberson, who is now on leave.
Last week, Roberson filed notice with the court asking to be relieved as counsel in 84 criminal cases, stating that he is unable to fulfill the duties of the office because of health reasons.
Davis said because Roberson went on leave, the cases have not yet been reassigned, but she expects Deputy Attorney General Bruce Marshack to do so.
However, Davis could not say on Friday when that would be.
Of the 84 cases relinquished by Roberson, about 30 are assigned to Willocks. The remaining cases are split between Judge Douglas Brady and Judge Robert Molloy.
Roberson's cases include crimes that range from simple possession of drugs, destruction of property to assault, attempted murder and several first-degree murder cases.
On Friday, Davis told Willocks she was instructed to ask the court to grant continuances in the cases and asked Willocks to give the office at least 30 days.
"The wheels of justice don't grind to a screeching halt because of one person," Willocks said.
The judge noted the request for the 30-day continuance for the record and said he would meet the request halfway and grant the prosecution 14 days to appoint a new attorney to the cases.
Willocks then continued the cases assigned to his court.
"It gets very complicated with this, because there are motions pending by these defendants, and there is nobody to answer on behalf of the people," he said.
Davis said she would ensure that management is notified so they can take action, but Willocks said it should already have been done.
"You are going to inform them, but in the meantime, the rights of all of these defendants are being trampled on," he said.
Willocks was referring to a defendant's right to a speedy trial, which is guaranteed in the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states, in part: "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed ..."
Willocks continued the hearings to his March 14 calendar and said he expects at that time to have new counsel in place and ready to move the cases forward.
"There are many of these people who are incarcerated, and I'll make a judgement call when that time comes and things are not in place, and you know what can happen," he said.
Attorney General Vincent Frazer said Friday afternoon that he is aware of the need to assign attorneys to the cases that had been left by Roberson and said it will all be taken care of in short order.
"The cases will be reviewed and reassigned very soon to the people that we have on staff," he said.
Frazer said that his office also anticipates continuing the process of hiring additional attorneys.
"The process to hire new attorneys can be a very lengthy one, especially if they are not already barred locally," he said. "We will see where we are and then look at the Supreme Court granting special admissions."
Attorneys who are not members of the V.I. Bar can be specially admitted to it by the V.I. Supreme Court, provided they meet certain requirements - including being a member in good standing of the bar of any court in the United States - provided under Rule 302 of the V.I. Superior Court.
Frazer said the process of looking at candidates for possible employment as prosecutors began in October, and several people are being reviewed.
"We hope to move to get everyone on board as soon as possible to help provide coverage in the office, but until then, we will use who we have to do the work," he said.
- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.