A hearing will be held Tuesday to decide if a temporary restraining order should be enforced against the 29th Legislature, forbidding them from holding closed meetings in violation of the territory’s Sunshine Act, as charged in a motion filed by the Daily News Publishing Company.
Superior Court Presiding Judge Darryl Donohue scheduled a 10 a.m. hearing, after the Daily News Publishing Company filed a motion Sunday seeking a permanent injunction to bar the Legislature and V.I. Government Employees Retirement System from holding meetings at which the public is denied access.
Two Daily News reporters were denied access to meetings last week held by the 29th Legislature, according to the motion filed by attorney Kevin Rames. Aldeth Lewin was reportedly denied access to a “secret meeting” on St. Thomas Thursday between Gov. John P. deJongh Jr. and 14 of the sitting 15 senators.
The motion also stated that Daily News reporter Joy Blackburn was denied access to a meeting with the 29th Legislature on Saturday at the Carambola Beach Resort . At that meeting, all 15 senators were present, as well as members of the GERS board.
Source reporter John Baur was also denied access to the29th Legislature’s closed session, but he and Blackburn were both allowed access to the GERS board meeting that immediately followed.
The defendants listed in the motion are the 29th Legislature of the Virgin Islands, Ronald Russell, (president), the V.I. Government Employee Retirement System, and Vincent Liger (chairman).
The Daily News is seeking a permanent injunction on the restraining order and cites two arguments against barring reporters from the meetings.
According to the motion:
1) The Daily News has a reasonable probability of success on the merits with respect to its claim that the 29th Legislature and GERS are in violation of the open meetings law.
2) The Daily News will suffer irreparable harm if relief is not granted.
“The 29th Legislature and GERS have violated the government in the Sunshine Act with direct intent of depriving the Daily News of the First Amendment right to gather news,” the motion said.
The open meetings law, otherwise known as the Sunshine Act, states that all meetings of governmental agencies authorized to take action on behalf of the agency shall be open to the public. However, the law also allows for numerous exceptions to the law.