Senate Moves Five Nominations Through Committee

The Senate Rules Committee and the Judiciary moved forward five nominations at a lengthy hearing Thursday.

The committee took their time vetting two nominees for judgeships. Attorneys Douglas A. Brady and Denise A. Hinds were both nominated to the Superior Court.

Hinds has served as a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office since 1995, specializing in crimes against children. She said that she has devoted her life to rescuing children from abuse and that she was eager to continue that mission as a judge in Family Court.

In a letter submitted to the Senate, the V.I. Bar Association opposed Hinds candidacy on the concern that she did not meet the minimum requirements for the position.

According to the law, in order to be appointed as a judge in Superior Court, “a person must be a member in good standing of the Virgin Islands Bar and shall have been engaged in the active practice of law for not less than five years immediately prior to this nomination, of which not less than three years shall have been in the Virgin Islands.”

Their concern stems from the fact that Hinds only passed the Virgin Islands bar exam in 2010. Working for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Hinds did not need to do so in order to practice law because she had passed the bar elsewhere in Pennsylvania and Georgia.

The V.I. Bar Association wrote that they believed the five years of experience required by the law needed to have occurred after the nominee joined the bar, so even though Hinds had been practicing law in the Virgin Islands for 18 years, she only received credit for two and thus was not qualified.

Hinds argued that this interpretation of the law was deeply flawed and said she had been contacted by numerous attorneys in the territory encouraging her to fight the bar’s opinion. She said that she believed the requirements for five year’s experience and to be a member of the bar were meant to be considered separately and that if a nominee had the required years of service, they should be eligible even if they’d only been a member of the bar “for a minute.”

Former U.S. Attorney David Marshall Nissman vehemently supported Hinds interpretation of the law and called on the senators to move her nomination forward.

“She is the best of us,” he said. “And she deserves to be in a position where her strength, her kindness, her character will help to mend the broken families that appear before her.”

Voting in favor of her nomination were Sens. Carlton Dowe, Sammuel Sanes, Celestino White and Usie Richards. Sens. Alicia Hansen, Ronald Russell and Patrick Simeon Sprauve were absent.

Brady studied law at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and passed the bar exam in 1976. He practiced in Washington, D.C., briefly before moving to St. Croix in 1978.

He worked as a defense attorney early in his career but said he had not been involved in a criminal case in the last 10 years. He currently has a private law practice with attorney Ned Jacobs and also serves as a mediator and neutral arbitrator.

White chided Brady and asked if his early experience gave him a “soft spot in his heart” for defense attorneys.

“I have a soft spot in my heart for all attorneys,” Brady responded in a rare moment of levity, but then clarified that he would treat all lawyers in his courtroom equally.

Brady expressed sympathy for alternative punishments, such as drug treatment programs, saying that long prison sentences are not always the best way to achieve the goal of rehabilitation.

Voting in favor of his nomination were Dowe, Russell, Sanes, White and Richards. Hansen and Sprauve were absent.

Darice S. Plaskett was considered for the position of Health commissioner. She is currently serving as the acting commissioner.

Plaskett holds a bachelor’s of science degree in nursing from Florida A&M University and a master’s of science in health care administration from Central Michigan University. She has previously served as the chairman of nursing, chief operating officer and interim chief executive officer for the Juan F. Luis Hospital, and has held an adjunct professorship in the University of the Virgin Islands nursing program.

While none of the senators had anything negative to say of Plaskett directly, many questioned how she would succeed where her predecessors failed. Richards said the previous four commissioners of the department resigned before the end of their terms.

Richards asked directly if, in her time as acting commissioner, she had discovered the “kingdoms and fiefdoms” of personal power and politics within the department, and whether or not she would be able to break them up.

Throughout the hearing, Plaskett was careful not to be overly critical of the department, and frequently replied to the questions posed that “there are certainly challenges and opportunities for improvement.”

She said one of the way she hoped her administration would differ from previous ones would be the department’s participation in the National Health Service Corp, a federal program that pays off large amounts of a medical provider’s student loans if they agree to practice in underserved communities.

Plaskett said the department was currently applying for acceptance into the program and, if they are successful, it will become easier for the department to recruit doctors and nurses.

Plaskett also said attracting additional federal grants would be a priority of her administration to provide greater stability to the department’s services at a time when funding from the V.I. government is slipping. She said the closure of the department’s dental program was a direct result of cuts they’ve seen in their general fund appropriation.

Voting in favor of her nomination were Russell, Sanes, Sprauve, White and Richards. Dowe and Hansen were absent.

Reuben D. Molloy was nominated to become the director of the Bureau of Information Technology.

Molloy has 25 years of experience in the information technology field including 17 years as the chief information officer at the Juan F. Luis Hospital.

Many of the senators expressed some frustration with BIT, with Richards going so far as to ask Molloy if it was a waste of time.

Malloy replied that he believed BIT required vision and leadership and that he was qualified to provide both. He said that he would direct BIT to focus on the business side of government and focus on making government IT services cheaper and more efficient.

He stressed the need for consolidating IT services for the government’s many entities. Currently each is responsible for securing its own Internet service provider and maintaining their own e-mail servers, a situation he said he sees as wasteful.

Voting in favor of his nomination were Russell, Sanes, Sprauve, White and Richards. Dowe and Hansen were absent.

Jennifer Nugent-Hill was re-nominated to the board of trustees of University of the Virgin Islands. This would be her second five-year term.

Nugent-Hill is a graduate of UVI and described herself as an “unabashed braggart” of the institution. She said that her goal was continue to support the university and ensure that it never becomes irrelevant as an institution of higher learning.

Particularly she said she would focus on recruiting and retaining male and Hispanic students, an area where UVI is falling behind.

Voting in favor of her nomination were Russell, Sanes, Sprauve, White and Richards. Dowe and Hansen were absent.

All of the nominees will seek final confirmation before the full Legislature at their next meeting in November.

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