Nov. 9, 2005 — Gov. Charles W. Turnbull sent a bill calling for several appropriations to fund the start-up costs of establishing of a Supreme Court in the V.I. to the Legislature this week.
The bill comes 13 months after Turnbull signed into law an initial piece of legislation establishing the court on St. Thomas. Approved unanimously by the Senate last October, the bill created the court, but did not provide the funding.
In March, senators approved an amendment to the Omnibus Justice Act of 2005 that placed the court on St. Croix. Turnbull vetoed the amendment, but the Senate overrode his veto in May.
However, in the bill submitted for Senate consideration Tuesday, Turnbull once again places the court on St. Thomas, saying that since The Revised Organic Act of 1954 designates Charlotte Amalie as territory's capital, the island should therefore be home to each branch of government. Turnbull added that land on Norre Gade, purchased by the government in 1984 as a potential site for an appellate court, could be used. And, until Congress amends the Organic Act to reflect the Senate's change to St. Croix, Turnbull continued, the facility should remain on St. Thomas "to avoid any litigation and maintain the capital and seat of government."
However, when contacted Wednesday, Sen. Ronald Russell — a strong supporter of the court being located on St. Croix — said there should be no "litigation," as the Revised Organic Act of 1954 gives the government "more autonomy when dealing with such matters."
"I am appreciative and grateful that the governor responded to my call to fund the Supreme Court," Russell added. "It is very much needed, as cases currently in our system are piling up — some have even been sitting there for years.
"However, he is misguided and mistaken with this idea that placing the court on St. Croix would violate the Organic Act," Russell said. Since we've already passed the law establishing the court on St. Croix, it is my wish that the governor respects the Senate's action and makes the appropriate changes to his bill."
At a Committee on Education, Culture and Youth meeting Wednesday, Sen. Louis P. Hill put in his two cents on the matter, saying Turnbull's push for the court to be on St. Thomas — despite senators' wishes — is another example of the conflict which currently exists between the legislative and executive branches.
Russell said it is important that the court be located on St. Croix because "something" is needed on the island to stimulate the economy. The move will also help to balance and unify the territory, he said, by equally "dividing the institutions of responsibility."
Turnbull's bill asks for the following appropriations:
— $650,000 for design and engineering plans for the court building on St. Thomas and judicial chambers on St. Croix.
— $1.6 million in operational funds to hire staff and establish temporary facilities while the court building is being constructed.
The money is to come from the General Fund.
While Turnbull's bill is not on the agenda for Thursday's Senate session, an amendment introduced by Russell to provide other funding for the court is on the agenda. Tacked onto a bill providing startup loan financing for the University of the Virgin Islands Technology Park Russell's amendment calls for $5.75 million for construction of the court building. The money would come from the Public Finance Authority.
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