V.I. Bar, other lawyers support attorney seeking fees from Superior Court
Published: March 6, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - A growing number of V.I. attorneys are rallying around a St. Croix lawyer who said the government has not paid her more than $8,000 for cases in which she has represented indigent defendants.
Amelia Joseph filed a petition Feb. 22 asking the V.I. Supreme Court to order the V.I. Superior Court to immediately pay her outstanding vouchers for court-appointed cases.
Within a week, more than a half-dozen attorneys had lined up in support of Joseph's petition.
On Feb. 28, Joseph DiRuzzo III, a Miami-based attorney who also practices in the Virgin Islands, filed an entry of appearance in the case. In that document, DiRuzzo gives notice that several attorneys - including himself, Russell Pate, Renee Dowling, Renee Andre, Emile Henderson, Kye Walker, K. Glenda Cameron and potentially others - intend to file a brief supporting Joseph's case.
At the same time, DiRuzzo filed a motion asking the high court for permission to file a supportive brief known as an amicus curiae, or "friend of the court," brief.
Amicus briefs typically are filed with cases of high public interest in which various stakeholders who are not parties to the case urge the court to adopt a certain position.
The V.I. Bar Association also is moving to support Joseph's case, according to a letter sent Monday to Bar Association members.
In the letter, Association President Ernest Morris Jr. identifies the issue of indigent criminal defense as something that has been "at the forefront of the agenda for the Virgin Islands Bar Association" in recent weeks.
"Recognizing the importance of this issue, the Board of Governors of the V.I. Bar Association has taken a vote which resulted in unanimous support for leave to file an amicus curiae brief," Morris wrote. "Further, over a dozen attorneys have already also agreed to join for permission to file an amicus brief."
Morris asked any Bar Association members who are interested in joining the amicus brief to email Executive Director Hinda Carbon at email@example.com by 4 p.m. today.
In her petition, Joseph argued the V.I. government owes her $8,365 for her work on two court-appointed cases, defending Michael Othello in a 2010 case and defending N'Fari Benjamin in a 2008 case.
Joseph said she submitted vouchers for the Othello case in December 2012 and for the Benjamin case on Jan. 8 of this year. Superior Court Presiding Judge Darryl Donohue Sr. approved both in mid-January, according to documents submitted with Joseph's petition.
However, Joseph said, she still has not been paid.
Donohue has said the Superior Court is on pace to run out of money before the end of the current fiscal year because of a less-than-adequate allotment from the 29th Legislature.
Verne Hodge, assistant general counsel for the Superior Court, filed an opposition to DiRuzzo's motion on Monday.
Hodge argues that DiRuzzo failed to state a clear reason for wanting to file an amicus brief; that such a brief may focus on an alternative legal argument to the main issue at hand; and that the brief may be redundant.
"Respondants are not willing to be blind-sided by movants who haven't made their intentions clear," Hodge wrote.
The response also offers some indication of how the Superior Court may respond to Joseph's petition.
Hodge states in the opposition motion that Joseph's outstanding vouchers will be paid "on or about" March 6.
"Thus, no amicus brief is needed in this simple and straightforward case," Hodge wrote.
March 6 - today - is the deadline the Supreme Court set for the Superior Court to respond to Joseph's petition.
The high court had not ruled on DiRuzzo's motion for leave to file the amicus brief as of press time Tuesday.
- Contact reporter Lou Mattei at 714-9124 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.