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Judicial Nominees Get Senate Committee Approval

May 15, 2007 — Three nominations to the V.I. Superior Court bench sailed through the Rules and Judiciary Committee Monday, bringing Judge Darryl D. Donohue and attorneys James S. Carroll and Michael C. Dunston one step closer to confirmation by the full Senate body.
Donohue's nomination sets him up to serve a second six-year term as a V.I. Superior Court judge. During Monday's hearing, Donohue said Gov. John deJongh Jr. has also asked him to continue as the court's presiding judge, a position he has held since December. Donohue became presiding judge after his predecessor, Judge Rhys S. Hodge, became chief justice of the V.I. Supreme Court.
If confirmed, this will be the first term for both Carroll and Dunston, who will fill vacancies left by Hodge and Judge Ive A. Swan, also tapped by former Gov. Charles W. Turnbull to serve as a Supreme Court justice.
While senators made their support for the three nominees clear, they still peppered the nominees with a range of questions during the almost eight-hour hearing. They asked Donohue about the future management of the judicial branch, which now includes the Supreme Court and a yet-to-be established Magistrate Division. They asked Carroll and Dunston about such things as bail requirements, mandatory minimum sentences and their motivations for becoming judges.
"This is the interview for your job," said Rules Committee chair Sen. Carlton Dowe before the first round of questions began. "The only difference is that sometimes these things take place in a private setting, while this one is opened up to the public at large."
Judge Darryl Dean Donohue
Before the establishment of the Supreme Court, the presiding judge of the V.I. Superior Court had such responsibilities as managing the budget of the judicial branch and helping fill vacancies within the system. Now that the Supreme Court is up and running, however, Donohue said that he and Hodge must now determine who will handle the various administrative functions.
"There are still discussions going on about the relationship between the two courts," he explained. "But I can't tell you with any degree of certainty at this time how everything will be working."
While his role may still be unclear, however, Donohue said he still has some steadfast goals in mind — including expanding the court's facilities in both districts and cleaning up the schedules of sitting judges. Establishing a magistrate division would help with the streamlining process, as it would free up more time for judges to handle more difficult criminal matters, he said.
Last week the governor signed into law the bill establishing a magistrate division within the Superior Court following approval by the full Senate in April.
The creation of a local DNA lab would also help to expedite many cases, allowing evidence to be processed within the territory instead of getting sent to the mainland for evaluation, Donohue said.
James S. Carroll
Carroll, on staff at the local U.S. Attorney's Office for the past 28 years, seemed to win senators over on Monday with his range of experience, knowledge and commitment to serving within the territory's judicial system.
"I've always had a kind of scholarly interest in the law, and understanding of law," he explained. "The idea of being able to shape the law and to be involved in the community in that way has always been something that's driven me."
Paying homage to personal heroes such as former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and former St. Thomas District Court Judge Almeric Christian, Carroll added that he, like his idols, hopes to "fight in the area" of community justice, advancing the rights of local citizens to make sure that "anyone, regardless of their position, gets a fair trial."
Dowe questioned Carroll about his objectivity on the bench in the wake of his son Jason getting gunned down in broad daylight on Main Street in 2000. He asked whether Carroll could remain fair when sentencing criminal offenders.
"My family has moved beyond our tragedy, and has tried to help other people," Carroll responded, explaining that he and his wife Celia have channeled their emotions into the creation of two local organizations designed to eradicate gun violence within the community. "I have not dwelled on my tragedy, and would not use the loss of my son as justification for harsh treatment of criminal defendants who appear before me."
Carroll added that he and his wife have personally and publicly forgiven the individual who murdered their son, and have continued to preach forgiveness, instead of vengeance, to other families suffering from the same sense of loss.
Michael C. Dunston
Outlining his journey through the farmlands of Illinois to the halls of the Washington University School of Law, Dunston told senators that he would use professional and personal experience to bring a balance to the Superior Court bench.
He has worked extensively in the criminal and civil law arenas, both as a prosecutor and public defender in Illinois, Dunston told the committee.
"I have represented both plaintiffs and defendants in civil cases, championing the cause of the poor and disenfranchised, and advancing the interests of businesses," he said. "I have conducted over 100 jury trials and several thousand bench trials and administrative hearings. I feel I have at least a passable knowledge of the law in virtually all areas, and at one time or another I have done just about every kind of work a lawyer can do."
Dunston said he "fell in love with the Virgin Islands" after coming to St. Croix for a conference more than 25 years ago. After that visit, he continued to apply for positions within the local Department of Justice and finally took a job as an assistant attorney general in October 1981.
"If you see fit to approve my nomination, I promise I will serve the people of the Virgin Islands with all my heart, mind and strength," he told senators.
Some of his goals for the Superior Court bench include reducing the system's backlog of civil cases, helping stem the tide of violent crime in the community and using the court's available resources to steer younger, first-time offenders toward academic, vocational and community-oriented activities, Dunston said.
The committee unanimously approved all three nominations Monday. Now they will go to the full Senate body for a final vote.
Present during Monday's meeting was Dowe along with Sens. Liston Davis, Louis P. Hill, Shawn-Michael Malone, Usie R. Richards, James Weber III, Carmen M. Wesselhoft, Alvin L. Williams and Celestino A. White Sr.
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