Almost two weeks after the Legislature passed a bill extending the terms of the three sitting V.I. Supreme Court justices – whose time on the bench was about to expire – Gov. Kenneth Mapp followed suit, renominating on Wednesday current Justices Maria M. Cabret, Ive A. Swan and Rhys S. Hodge to the positions they have held for the last 10 years.
During a press conference on St. Thomas to announce the renominations, Mapp said putting the three justices back on the bench would allow for continuity of the court’s work and “stability” in the judiciary.
On Oct. 27, 2006, the Legislature voted unanimously to confirm Cabret, Hodge and Swan to be the first justices on the brand new V.I. Supreme Court. At the time, the V.I. law creating the court established 10-year terms, so all three justices’ terms expired 10 years later, on Oct. 27, of this year.
Without action from Mapp, senators took up the issue during a special session Oct. 21, when they approved a bill sponsored by Sen. Neville James to allow the sitting justices to continue to serve up to 180 days after their terms expired. The uncontroversial bill was used as a vehicle, however, for an array of unrelated legislative measures, from free PhD tuition for veterans at the University of the Virgin Islands to a residential drug and alcohol program.
James said the bill came about "when my chief legal counsel informed me on Oct. 11 that the legislation establishing our Supreme Court did not allow for sitting Supreme Court justices to preside on the bench after their respective terms expire, unlike that of the local magistrates and Superior Court judges."
Government House sent out notice Monday about Wednesday’s press conference on St. Thomas and, while Mapp didn’t comment on why the renominations were delayed, he did say that V.I. law calls for five justices to serve on the V.I. Supreme Court bench.
Mapp said the final two nominees will be named “next year,” with names being submitted to the 32nd Legislature for approval.
According to the governor, the three sitting justices have a combined 100 years of legal experience and have played a major role in creating a fair and autonomous local appellate system.
Cabret, he noted, was the second woman and first woman of Hispanic descent to serve as a V.I. Territorial Court judge, and further made history when she was tapped as presiding judge.
Swan has also served as attorney general of the territory (under former Gov. Juan F. Luis) and has worked as a local judge since 1993.
Hodge maintained a private practice in the territory for 21 years before being sworn in as a V.I. Superior Court judge in 2000.
The three nominations announced Wednesday will be sent down to the Legislature after the next seven days, Mapp said. The governor added that he would also be approving the portion of the Legislature’s bill that extends the justices’ terms for up to 180 days.
Mapp then said he had to “run off” because it was his birthday and he wanted to spend time with family.