Christensen-Ottley ticket faces new challenge


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ST. THOMAS - With just a few days before the territory's primary election, gubernatorial candidate Moleto Smith Jr. continues to challenge the residential qualifications of Basil Ottley Jr., a candidate for lieutenant governor on an opposing ticket.

Smith filed a petition Tuesday in V.I. Superior Court, pleading that the court disqualify Ottley from the race. Ottley is running on the ticket of the territory's current congressional delegate, Donna Christensen, who will be running for governor in the upcoming election.

In his press release, Smith requested that the media not contact him for information.

"As this matter is now before the court, after today I will have no further specific comments on the filing until its resolution," Smith said in the prepared statement.

Ottley could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

Court officials said Wednesday that the case has been assigned to Judge Denise Francois, but the court had not yet scheduled a hearing to address the petition.

It is uncertain whether Francois will have time to respond to the petition before Saturday's primary election.

"It would amount to a dereliction of duty (or worse), on the part of the Boards of Election and the Election Supervisor's office, if Mr. Ottley's campaign efforts are permitted to continue, unchallenged by the system," Smith's petition states.

The Joint Board of Elections already voted to uphold V.I. Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes' decision that Ottley is an eligible candidate for lieutenant governor. Fawkes made her ruling in response to a complaint Smith and his running mate, Hubert Frederick, filed with the Elections System earlier in July.

The candidates questioned whether Ottley meets the residency requirements to be a candidate because of his time spent outside the territory.

Fawkes responded to the challenge in a letter, saying that the Elections System had reviewed the nomination petition for the Christensen-Ottley ticket as it does with all candidates and found that Ottley met the qualifications.

Fawkes also noted that Smith and Frederick's initial appeal was not filed in a timely manner. The candidates had five days after the May deadline for filing nomination petitions to enter a challenge, Fawkes wrote, noting that the Smith-Frederick complaint dated July 7 fell outside that time frame.

"The Supervisor's response totally evaded the issue of the candidate's durational residency qualifications, by suggesting that no further review of Mr. Ottley's qualifications are necessary to be done," the petition states.

Following Fawkes' ruling, Smith and Frederick then appealed that decision to the joint board.

According to V.I. Code, to be eligible to run for the office of lieutenant governor, a candidate must be a U.S. citizen, a bona fide resident of the Virgin Islands and an eligible voter in the territory for the five years preceding the election.

Smith contends Ottley would have had to be living in the territory since May 2009 to qualify, but Ottley was working for the Interior Department in Washington, D.C., and not living in the Virgin Islands at that time.

In support of her ruling, Fawkes discussed V.I. Code as well as case law, contending that a change of residence to enable a person to perform the duties of a civil office, whether elected or appointed, does not itself constitute a change of domicile.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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