The V.I. Supreme Court on Monday turned down Senate-hopeful Janelle Sarauw’s request for emergency relief Monday, saying she will have to wait for the Superior Court to act on her bid to force the Board of Elections to certify her victory in the April 8 special election.
Sarauw on Saturday filed with the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus that would compel the Superior Court to have the district Elections Board finally certify the special elections results, which would allow her to take the vacant Senate seat. The V.I. Superior Court had taken up the issue late last month, after Sarauw filed a petition seeking emergency relief and an immediate certification of the special elections results, which St. Thomas-St. John Board of Elections members have not acted on based on the belief that Sarauw’s Senate seat had two occupants: her and former senator-elect Kevin Rodriquez.
Sarauw has gone head to head with Rodriquez for months over the seat, which Rodriquez also won in last year’s general election but ultimately lost last week after senators voted 8-6 not to admit him as a member. At the time, majority senators said there were still concerns lingering about Rodriquez’s residency, which was the basis of the original legal battle waged by Sarauw, who contended that Rodriquez had, in 2016, claimed he was a bona fide resident of Tennessee instead of the Virgin Islands.
Sarauw filed a separate suit after the district elections board failed to certify the special election results, but in a June 22 hearing, said she would hold off on pushing the case forward until the Senate had made its final decision on whether or not to seat Rodriquez. Once the vote came down, Sarauw on Thursday and Friday filed multiple motions in Superior Court asking for a ruling on the special election certification. After not hearing back, Sarauw filed on Saturday another motion with the V.I. Supreme Court for “immediate relief,” which would either force the Superior Court to answer, or the district Elections board to certify the results.
In Monday’s ruling, V.I. Supreme Court Justices Ive Swan, Maria Cabret and Rhys Hodge said it doesn’t just take one day for a court to answer, especially when so many motions are filed at once.
“In this case, Sarauw did not simply file a petition for writ of mandamus with the Superior Court, but also sought declaratory and injunctive relief, including a request that the Superior Court mandate that the Board of Elections revoke its certification of Rodriquez in the November 8, 2016, election,” the justices wrote. “While the better practice may have been for the Superior Court to immediately address the mandamus petition and resolve Sarauw’s other requests for relief at a later date, we cannot fault – at least at this stage of the proceedings – the Superior Court for electing to consider all of her claims together.”
“To the extent Sarauw is dissatisfied with how the Superior Court managed her case, it is ultimately the result of her own decision to seek injunctive and declaratory relief with respect to other matters as part of the same proceeding as her mandamus petition,” the Supreme Court decided.
The justices added that there is no evidence to suggest the Superior Court will not act promptly on the matter and denied Sarauw’s petition for a writ of mandamus, which had argued that the court had failed in its duty to resolve the matter.
The court did agree with Sarauw’s argument that the district Elections Board was duty bound to certify the special results.
“More importantly, no provision of the Virgin Islands Code, the Revised Organic Act of 1954, or any other applicable authority grants the Board of Elections the power to unilaterally refuse to certify the results of a duly-called election simply because it believes that the election was unnecessary, or that certification may result in confusion,” the justices wrote. “Thus, under these circumstances, certification of the special election within the statutorily-mandated fifteen days is clearly a ministerial act that the Board of Elections lacks the discretion to simply postpone.”
Still, justices added that Sarauw has to wait for the Superior Court to act because it alone has the power to compel the Elections Board to act.
“Although the courts of the Virgin Islands are always open for the filing of emergency papers – as is demonstrated by this Court’s consideration of Sarauw’s petition on a holiday weekend – we cannot conclude that providing the Superior Court with only one working day to consider the motions for ruling (and the exhibits attached thereto) is sufficient to render the Superior Court an impractical forum for attaining the desired relief,” the justices wrote. “While there may well be certain exceptional cases where the inability to rule on a motion within one working day may render the Superior Court an inadequate forum for a particular dispute so as to justify mandamus relief in this Court, we note that Sarauw noted no exigency – other than the fact that the seventh senate seat for the District of St. Thomas/St. John remains vacant – in her motions for a ruling that would require the Superior Court to rule on the matter in one working day, as opposed to two working days or three working days.”
The justices added that they are “confident” the Superior Court will issue a prompt ruling once it reviews all the paperwork.