Nov. 14, 2002 – A battle raging between lawyer Lee Rohn and the Attorney General's Office is threatening to upstage the actual court case they are arguing about.
Mincing no words, the Attorney General's Office filed a response Wednesday to Rohn's motion to represent the Public Services Commission chair, Desmond Maynard, in a case The V.I. Daily News has filed against Maynard and the PSC. It accuses Rohn of misrepresentation of facts and says one of her assertions can "most accurately be described as an outright lie."
Rohn stated in her motion that she has been retained by the PSC chair, Desmond Maynard, to represent him in a lawsuit The V.I. Daily News has filed against the commission. The suit seeks details of an executive session discussion on Sept. 12. The newspaper contends the session violated the Open Meetings Act.
It is the contention of Attorney General Iver Stridiron that government agencies cannot hire private attorneys to represent their interests but must be represented by the government's own lawyers. Rohn says the PSC is an exception to that rule because its funding does not come from government coffers but from fees assessed the public utilities it regulates. (See "Lawyer: PSC can and does hire private counsel".)
The documents Rohn filed in Territorial Court on St. Croix last week ask the court to disregard anything that Kerry Drue, an assistant attorney general, has filed on behalf of Maynard and the PSC in response to the newspaper suit. Drue is the lawyer the government assigned to represent the PSC. In the motion, Rohn says she has been retained to represent Maynard and the PSC, and that Maynard does not want the Attorney General's Office to represent him.
In the government's response, Drue says that, had Rohn inquired, she would have discovered that the AG's office had, indeed, contacted Maynard and the PSC regarding their representation in court. Drue states that she personally contacted Maynard on Oct. 21 to notify him that she would be filing an "Answer" to the newspaper's suit on behalf of him and the PSC. The document states that Maynard responded "Okay."
In the document, Drue cites a section of the V.I. Code — 3 V.I.C. Section 114 (8) which includes among the duties of the attorney general: "upon request of the governor or the Legislature, to render written opinion on any legal questions relating to the exercise of the power or duties of any department, board, commission, agency, instrumentality or officer of the government of the U.S. Virgin Islands."
Rohn contended in her motion that the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the PSC is a different kind of agency because its funds come from the entities it investigates. As far as its hiring private attorneys, she said, "the Legislature has never acted to stop the practice."
Drue's response cites a 1977 letter that Edgar Ross, then attorney general, wrote to Gustav Danielson, then PSC chair, noting the cited V.I. Code provision as well as a section which states that the "Public Services Commission has no authority to utilize the services of private counsel; the law provides for representation of the commission by the Office of the Attorney General."
Rohn stated in her motion that she has been retained by Maynard and the PSC. Drue's response does not state that Maynard has agreed to be represented by the attorney general. Repeated telephone calls to Maynard on Thursday seeking clarification went unreturned.
Rohn said on Thursday afternoon that she had not seen Drue's document but that the Attorney General's Office typically files a response to a motion "with the court, but not with opposing counsel." She said no one from the AG's Office told Maynard of its intention to represent him and that Maynard, who also is a lawyer, has notified Stridiron's office in writing that it does not represent him.
The PSC has contracted attorney Frederick Watts not only as a hearing examiner but also as legal counsel, Rohn noted. And the commission formerly utilized the services of Maria Tankenson Hodge, also a lawyer in private practice.
"The only thing I can see different between them and myself" in the current situation, Rohn said, "is that I have gone to battle against Prosser, and he does not like me." Her reference was to Jeffrey Prosser, owner of Innovative Communication Corp., which owns the Daily News and three entities regulated by the PSC — Innovative Telephone and the territory's two Innovative Cable-TV companies.
Rohn's clients have included several individuals suing Prosser companies, including four former Daily News employees and a former senior executive at Prosser's V.I. Community Bank.
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