V.I. Supreme Court hears arguments in case questioning Sen. Hansen's eligibility to run
Published: August 27, 2014
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ST. CROIX - V.I. Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments Tuesday in the case in which Adelbert Bryan has appealed a V.I. Superior Court order that dismisses a challenge to Sen. Alicia Hansen's eligibility to run for office in the November General Election.
St. Croix attorney Emile Henderson III is representing Bryan in the case and contends that Superior Court Judge Douglas Brady committed multiple errors when he dismissed the suit filed by Bryan against Hansen and Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes contesting Hansen's eligibility to seek another term as a St. Croix District senator because of a previous conviction.
At Tuesday's hearing, the courtroom at the District Court building was filled to capacity with more than 70 people sitting elbow-to-elbow in the court benches. Extra chairs had to be taken out of the well and lined up against the back wall of the courtroom to accommodate the crowd.
The justices listened closely to the arguments and questioned the attorneys for each party on the factors that led them to the position they each took on the matter.
According to briefs filed by Henderson earlier this month, the Superior Court committed an error when it failed to conduct a statutory construction analysis in interpreting the term "moral turpitude" and failed to conduct a proper analysis in determining the term "willfully" as used in the law.
Henderson claims the court's action tainted its finding that Fawkes properly certified Hansen to be eligible to be nominated to the 2014 General Election ballot. The court compounded that error by failing to comply with its statutory mandate according to the law, he argued.
He said the court also erred in validating Fawkes' decision that Hansen is qualified to be on the ballot.
By issuing an order July 29 dismissing Bryan's motion for injunctive relief with prejudice, Henderson said Brady set the wheels into motion for the appeal.
On Tuesday, Henderson argued that Hansen's willfulness not to pay her taxes is all that is needed to determine that a crime involving moral turpitude was committed. He said failure to pay taxes is one of those duties that if you do not do it, it puts the burden on the system and other taxpayers.
Attorney Lee Rohn, who is representing Hansen, said the matter rightfully was dismissed by the lower court because, based on the Revised Organic Act of 1954, the qualifications of the members of the Legislature are left to be determined by that body. Under the separation of powers, only the Legislature has the authority to define a crime involving moral turpitude, and they have not done so resulting in action by omission, Rohn said.
Assistant Attorney General Kimberly Salisbury, representing Fawkes, said in portions of her arguments that Brady was clear in his ruling that Fawkes' decision was correct.
Justices took turns commenting that they did not believe that a proper record was created in the Superior Court.
Justice Ive Swan said there was no finding of factual basis included in the document presented in the case, and while Fawkes stated that she had done some consultation before making her decision, there was no documentation.
"There has to be documentation and a record. We are a court of review, but we have nothing to review," he said.
Justice Maria Cabret said Salisbury asked the justices to take notice of certain facts in the case, but there is not much to look at. "You're arguing that we should take notice of what the Superior Court took notice of, but we can't tell what they based the decision on," she said. "It's troubling that we would be asked to look at an administrative decision that was made without a record."
The justices have taken their decision under advisement and are expected to issue an opinion before the end of the week.
Fawkes has said that to meet deadlines set by federal mandates, the ballots for the Nov. 4 election must be ordered by Aug. 30.
Outside of court Tuesday, Henderson said he thought that the arguments went well but what is important is that soon there should be a final decision on the issue. He said he is not only representing Bryan in the process, but also the people of the territory so that years from now it will be clear why Hansen's actions were wrong and had to be addressed.
"Public servants do not get a free pass on this," he said. "Everybody has to be accountable."
Rohn said she also thought the arguments went well and the panel was well-informed and asked pertinent questions. It is clear that Hansen has been elected and served the community respectfully and should continue to do so, she said.
Hansen, who left the courtroom followed by an entourage of more than 40 people, said she did not believe the issue is one that should have ever come to court.
"The issue is personal, but it will soon be over," she said.
- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.