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Stage Set for Battle Over Location of Supreme Court


Nov. 24, 2006 — While Gov. Charles W. Turnbull recently signed a bill into law appropriating $5.75 million to begin construction of a local Supreme Court, the question remains whether the court will be established on St. Thomas or St. Croix.
Beginning Dec. 13, lawyers representing the government and the Legislature will have the opportunity to settle the matter in court, when V.I. Superior Court Judge Leon Kendall will hear oral arguments on a lawsuit filed by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, challenging the Legislature's decision to place the court on St. Croix.
The suit, filed by Turnbull on July 28, asks the court to declare building the court on St. Croix unconstitutional (See "Gov. Turnbull Signs Bill to Establish V.I. Supreme Court").
In an order released last week, Kendall said arguments will begin Dec. 13 at 1 p.m. at the Alexander A. Farrelly Justice Center on St. Thomas.
Two days before the order was released, Kendall ruled against a motion filed by attorneys representing the Legislature, requesting that the case be dismissed.
The motion came after Kendall shot down a request made by Sen. Ronald E Russell to have the case moved to District Court. At the time, Kendall wrote that the case was "properly within the jurisdiction of the Superior Court" (See "Senators in No Hurry to Consider Supreme Court Nominees").
According to Superior Court documents, the motion to dismiss claimed that: a) Turnbull "lacks standing" to sue the Legislature, b) that no "case or controversy" exists between the two parties and c) that the Legislature is "immune from suit."
The motion also states that Turnbull "has not suffered any injury" from the Legislature's decision to place the court on St. Croix. Turnbull, however, alleges that by passing a bill to put the court on St. Croix, the Senate has "infringed upon his duty" to enforce the territory's laws.
Kendall made similar comments in the ruling, stating that Turnbull is "entitled" to bring suit against the Legislature since the governor has the responsibility of enforcing all local laws and laws of "the United States applicable to the Virgin Islands," such as those laid out in the Revised Organic Act.
Therefore, Kendall stated that the Senate's decision "is sufficiently personal to constitute an injury" and gives Turnbull the standing to sue. Furthermore, the ruling says that as a taxpayer, the governor is "entitled to bring suit against the Legislature."
"It is clear here that the plaintiff [Turnbull] has established that he has suffered or is threatened with injury as a result of the defendant's [Legislature's] conduct and that he has a personal stake as a taxpayer in the outcome of the litigation," Kendall wrote.
He explained the court could only "grant declaratory relief" on the matter if an "actual controversy" exists between the two parties.
"There can be no doubt that a substantial controversy exists nor can there be any doubt that the controversy presents adverse legal interests of sufficient immediacy and reality," Kendall wrote.
He added that a tug-of-war exists between Turnbull and the Legislature because of the Senate's "insistence" in placing the court on St. Croix. Furthermore, Kendall said that Supreme Court nominees recently approved by the full Senate body will not be able to "administer justice" until a decision is made on where the court will be located.
The motion to dismiss the case also challenges Turnbull's ability to "overturn a law enacted in accordance with law." Therefore, given the Senate's authority to pass the laws, the motion states that the Legislature is "immune from suit."
While Kendall did not challenge this argument, he said the motion does not "accurately reflect" the facts of the case.
"Specifically, plaintiff is not seeking to 'overturn a law,' but rather, challenges the constitutionality of the law passed by the defendant," he wrote. Kendall added that Turnbull is also not "seeking to inquire into the motives" of the Legislature in passing the law, or challenging the process "by which that law was enacted."
Therefore, Kendall wrote that "no credence" can be given to the motion filed on behalf of the Legislature. "Therefore, the court will reject it," he said.

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