Jan. 26, 2004 – The person who made the decision to hold the midwinter meeting of the Judicial Council of the National Bar Association on St. Croix this past week did so in the face of advice she got from a St. Thomas resident.
Judge Earnestine Dorse of Memphis, Tenn., chairs the NBA's Judicial Committee, and the final decision rested with her and the planning committee she headed. Dorse says she visited the territory last April to meet with local representatives and was immediately assailed with negative reports of St. Croix.
"I was on the seaplane seated next to a doctor from St. Thomas, and I told him of my plans to bring the meeting to St. Croix," Dorse related. "He asked me if I had lost my mind. 'Why are you going to St. Croix?' he said. He told me that the crime in St. Croix was terrible."
The doctor went on to tell her about the Fountain Valley shootings, in which eight persons were killed, which occurred on St. Croix in 1972.
But Dorse said she consulted with Territorial Court Presiding Judge Maria Cabret and retired Judge Eileen Petersen. "And when I saw St. Croix for myself," she said, "I felt it was the stepchild of the Virgin Islands, and I made the decision to use this meeting to stimulate the economy. I wanted to make a difference in the reputation, image and economy of St. Croix."
At the closing reception at the Fort Frederik Museum on Saturday night, Dorse proclaimed the event a great success. She said that in addition to taking part in the conference events, attendees went shopping, gambled at the Divi Casino and looked into future investments such as condominium units and second homes on St. Croix.
Petersen was the local coordinator for the gathering. Telling the appreciative crowd that "I don't need any more plaques" on Saturday, she asked for this recognition instead: "If you love me, and you had a great time in St. Croix, go back to your home and tell everyone what a great time you had in St. Croix, come back with your family, and bring your friends."
Attendees indicated they might do just that, praising the hospitality shown them during their stay. At a beach barbeque earlier Saturday at Hotel on the Cay, several recounted their experiences on the island in glowing terms.
"We have been treated royally by the government," Clyde Bailey, the NBA's 61st president, said. "It is a very relaxing island, laid back — no long lines. Many of my colleagues are looking into buying second homes here."
Miniard Culpepper, who heads NBA Region 1, which covers the New England area, said he has begun negotiations to bring the region's 2005 conference to the island. "Coming to St. Croix in the winter would be great," he said. "We go to Martha's Vineyard in the summer."
Culpepper also said it is important for Virgin Islanders and their stateside counterparts to enjoy fellowship. "There are no differences between Virgin Islanders and New Yorkers," he said. "We are one people working toward one goal."
New York State Supreme Court Judge Laura Blackburne attended the meeting with her daughter, Anna Blackburne-Rigsby, a judge on the District of Columbia Supreme Court. "We are the only mother-daughter sitting judges in the U.S.A.," Blackburne said. "St. Croix is probably the most beautiful Caribbean island I have ever visited. I love the hospitality, and the water is great."
The NBA is the nation's oldest and largest association of black judges, lawyers and legal scholars, with 35,000 members and 85 affiliates in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Africa and Europe. More than 200 members attended the four-day meeting of the organization's Judicial Council, which included seminars, round-table discussions, luncheons and receptions, wrapping up on Saturday with the barbecue and Fort Frederik reception.
St. Croix attorney Jeffery B.C. Moorhead hosted the barbeque; the reception was hosted by the Territorial Court and the V.I. Bar Association. The main site of the meetings was the Divi Carina Bay Resort. Most attendees stayed at the Divi; others were housed at the Buccaneer and Tamarind Reef Hotels.
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