Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone summed it up at Thursday’s meeting of the Legislature’s Rules and Judiciary Committee, which was called to vet the renomination of Superior Court Judge Michael Dunstan and the nomination of Robert Molloy as a Superior Court judge. “This is a job interview,” Malone said.
After more than five hours of questioning, the six members of the committee who attended the meeting gave them both the okay with favorable recommendations.
The meeting went so long that Committee Chairman Sammuel Sanes said the slew of bills also on the agenda would be dealt with at a later date. The committee also did not take up the nomination of Calford Martin to the V.I. Housing Finance Authority Commission.
Dustan’s nomination to continue serving on St. Thomas sailed through, but it was a different story with Molloy’s.
The V.I. Bar Association opposed Molloy’s nomination, claiming that Molloy, who would serve on St. Croix, had no criminal experience and was woefully short when it came to litigation.
Molloy is the assistant attorney general assigned to the government’s Office of Collective Bargaining. In response to questions from senators, he said that job provided him with litigation experience and he learned the court processes while a law clerk for U.S. District Judge Raymond Finch.
Ernest Morris Jr., who heads the Bar Association, said a survey indicated 46 percent of the 50 members who responded opposed Molloy’s nomination. A total of 38 percent were in favor, he said.
“Molloy would make an impressive judge – someday but not now,” Morris said, citing his lack of experience.
Molloy said repeatedly that he would be a fair and impartial judge.
If Molloy’s nomination makes it through the full Legislature, Dunstan said he’ll inherit 400 to 500 civil and criminal cases.
In his opening remarks, Molloy said there was a 6,932-case backlog in Superior Court.
“Inmates are in jail five to seven years awaiting trial,” Sen. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly said.
Dustan said in that his six years as a Superior Court judge, he’s been able to move his cases through the system faster than any other judge on the court.
In addition to his own organizational skills, Dunstan said the addition four years ago of magistrates to deal with traffic, small claims and landlord/tenant cases made a significant impact.The Superior Court website lists one magistrate on St. Thomas and two on St. Croix. Dunstan said while those cases used to take six months to be heard, the time is now two weeks to a month.
In response to questions from senators, Dunstan said that the addition of another magistrate on each island, as well as shifting some misdemeanor cases to their courtrooms, would further help speed up the amount of time before cases are held.
Dunstan said St. Thomas has five judges and St. Croix has only four.
“Add another judge on St. Croix,” Dunstan suggested.
According to Morris, 80.9 percent of the 47 Bar Association members who responded to the Dunstan survey gave him a favorable recommendation.
At issue for some of the senators when discussing Molloy’s nomination was the small number of responses. Morris said the Bar Association has 540 active members who were sent surveys, but the number of responses was typical.
Dustan indicated he is in line to become presiding judge when presiding Judge Darryl Donahue leaves office shortly, and Morris indicated 72.3 percent of Bar Association members approved that promotion.
Dunstan said, in response to questions from senators, that he did not favor moving the Superior Court under the Supreme Court umbrella as has been suggested. He said that while the Supreme Court dealt with appeals from Superior Court, the Superior Court was where cases originated.
“It ends the independence of the trial court,” he said.
Several senators spoke about the impact on the community that comes because the majority of people that go to jail in criminal cases are young black men. They asked the nominees what the court could do to help.
Dunstan said he was willing to consider alternatives to sentencing for first offenders.
When Molloy was asked that question, he responded: “As a judge, I think mitigating circumstances should be considered.”
In addition to Sanes, Malone and Rivera-O’Reilly, Sen. Diane Capehart, Sen. Janette Millin-Young, Sen. Myron Jackson, and Sen. Kenneth Gittens attended the meeting. Rivera-O’Reilly is not a committee member. Other noncommittee members who came to ask questions included Sen. Judi Buckley, Sen. Terrence “Positive” Nelson and Sen. Tregenza Roach.