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Legislature Appeals Ruling on Supreme Court Location

Jan. 29, 2007 — While the V.I. Supreme Court has already adopted its own rules and regulations and set up a clerk's office on St. Thomas, the battle over the court's location continues.
According to recent court documents, the 27th Legislature has decided to appeal a ruling made last week by V.I. Superior Court Judge Leon Kendall, who said that establishing the court on St. Croix — outside the territory's capital and "seat of government" — is unconstitutional. (See "Judge's Ruling: Supreme Court on St. Croix Is Unconstitutional.")
On Monday, Senate President Usie R. Richards said the appeal was filed on Friday and will be heard by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. "I had to make sure I got it in as soon as possible, otherwise the matter would have been heard by the Supreme Court," he explained.
In a recent letter to Gov. John deJongh Jr., Chief Supreme Court Justice Rhys S. Hodge said the court would be ready on Monday to assume jurisdiction, replacing the federal District Court as the territory's appellate body.
"… Notice is hereby given that commencing Jan. 29, 2007, all appeals filed from judgments and decisions of the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands shall now be taken to the Supreme Court …," Hodge wrote.
In the 25th Legislature, Richards introduced the amendment that placed the court on St. Croix. When former Gov. Charles W. Turnbull subsequently vetoed the measure, Richards also moved for an override — an action supported by a majority of senators.
"One of the reasons why I decided to appeal this ruling is because it is consistent with my previous actions, which supported placing the court on St. Croix," he said Monday.
Richards added that Kendall's ruling "leaves the door open to the fact that the Legislature can be challenged and sued for the bills we send down."
It is still not known what impact the appeal will have on the operations of the court, which is set to occupy the former Little Switzerland building in Crown Bay. According to V.I. Port Authority Executive Director Darlan Brin, negotiations between VIPA and the court concluded last week, and were approved by the authority's governing board last Wednesday.
The court has leased 11,000 square feet at $22 per square foot. The lease will run three years at that rate before increasing after three and five years. (See "Supreme Surprise: Court Leases Space on St. Thomas.")
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