March 26, 2007 — A bill to establish a magistrate division within the V.I. Superior Court cleared the Senate's Rules and Judiciary Committee Monday, finally making its way to the full body for final approval.
While the committee approved the bill in the 26th Legislature, the full body did not consider it before the Senate adjourned sine die (without designating a further date) in December. This time, however, lawmakers expect the bill to go on the agenda for a legislative session in April.
Since its introduction last year, the bill has garnered much support from numerous local judges and government officials, including former Attorney General Kerry Drue and Chief V.I. Supreme Court Justice Rhys S. Hodge.
Speaking during Monday's meeting, newly confirmed Attorney General Vincent Frazer also spoke in favor of the bill, calling it the "most realistic approach to addressing the myriad problems faced by our over-burdened courts in providing efficient and effective services."
Sponsored by Sen. Liston Davis, the bill allows for the appointment of two magistrate judges in each district, who will be responsible for hearing — among other things — traffic offenses, litter cases, misdemeanor criminal cases, arraignments, small-claims cases and probate matters. According to the bill, magistrates will serve four-year terms and earn a salary equal to 85 percent of the salary paid to V.I. Superior Court judges.
The establishment of a magistrate division would put the "whole judicial system on some real solid ground and footing" by taking smaller cases away from judges and attorneys who also have to deal with larger and more complex matters, such as criminal trials, Frazer said.
In an effort to clarify some ambiguities in the bill, Frazer also offered senators a list of recommendations, saying that:
— while the bill sets up a magistrate-selection panel to appoint magistrates for each district, it does not specify who will serve on the panel;
— the bill should extend a magistrate's term for an additional 180 days to allow for the appointment of a successor;
— a section should be added to the bill specifying that magistrates should not be related by blood or marriage to any member of the magistrate-selection panel;
— residents wishing to appeal the decisions made by the magistrate division should file their appeals with the V.I. Superior Court; and
— traffic officers should be allowed to present their cases before the magistrate division instead of placing the burden on assistant attorneys general "struggling to concentrate on more serious" matters.
In a recent letter to the committee distributed during Monday's meeting, Hodge made similar recommendations. He added that the bill should also deal with how magistrates are reappointed, allow magistrates to set bail for individuals pending trial and specify to what benefits magistrates will be entitled.
Davis said he would work the suggestions into the bill before senators consider it during the next Senate session.
Voting in favor of the bill on Monday were Sens. Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Usie R. Richards, James Weber III and Alvin L. Williams. Absent were Sens. Shawn-Michael Malone, Carmen M. Wesselhoft and Celestino A. White Sr.
Also present were Davis and Sen. Louis P. Hill.
Senators also voted to hold in committee the re-nomination of Jose Penn to the Economic Development Authority Governing Board.
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.