Gov. John deJongh Jr. on Wednesday pardoned Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen for her 2009 conviction on charges of failing to file tax returns, opening the door for the senator to appear on the general election ballot in November.
Acknowledging that the decision will be controversial, deJongh said ultimately it will be the voters of St. Croix who judge Hansen.
"I am fully aware that this is a controversial decision that will provoke much emotion and discussion. However, after much soul searching, I have concluded that the best decision I can make is the one I have made because I know that that decision will be immediately put to the test of ratification by the electorate of St. Croix," the governor said.
Hansen was convicted in 2009 of three counts of willful failure to file tax returns. Voters on St. Croix returned her to the Senate in 2011.
The Organic Act of 1954 forbids anyone on parole or probation for a felony or for a conviction of "a crime of moral turpitude" from exercising the right to vote or run for office. All the court and administrative hearings on Hansen’s eligibility have hinged upon whether Hansen’s convictions amounted to crimes of moral turpitude. The laws she was convicted of breaking do not say "turpitude."
This year’s challenge was the third to Hansen’s candidacy since her conviction. In 2011 the St. Croix Board of Elections determined Hansen to be eligible. In 2012 the V.I. Action Group unsuccessfully again sought to have her declared ineligible, but the V.I. supervisor of elections and V.I. Superior Court both ruled in Hansen’s favor, citing similar reasons and the absence of any legal authority saying her convictions amounted specifically to "moral turpitude."
This spring Adelbert Bryan, chairman of the St. Croix District Board of Elections and a former senator, asked Supervisor of Elections Caroline Fawkes to review Hansen’s nomination papers for this fall’s senatorial election. Fawkes determined Hansen was qualified. Bryan petitioned Superior Court, saying Fawkes erred because her three misdemeanor convictions constitute "crimes involving moral turpitude."
Friday the V.I. Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Chief Justice Rhys S. Hodge, ruled that her misdemeanor convictions constituted moral turpitude and ordered her name removed from the ballot. Her attorney immediately applied for relief to the governor, asking for a pardon.
"In so doing, I am not questioning the past illegal acts taken by the senator to which she has pled guilty. Nor am I questioning the fact that these crimes have been definitively defined by the Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands as crimes of moral turpitude. Those determinations have been made," deJongh wrote in a statement issued by Government House to announce the pardon.
"However, I am not comfortable with an outcome that denies the voters of St. Croix an opportunity to decide again for themselves what they have twice before decided during the elections for the 29th and 30th Legislatures. It was publicly known at the time of those elections that the Senator had been convicted of these crimes. It was also known that she had completed her sentence and fulfilled the obligations that followed from her conviction and sentencing. Moreover, her candidacy was challenged in each of those election cycles and the election system qualified her and placed her name on the ballot for each of those two elections. She was elected in both."
DeJongh noted that the high court decision would disqualify her from service in the 31st Legislature unless she is pardoned.
"And I shall grant it because I believe that the wrong that she committed stands, as it has stood, as a mark against her and her record." DeJongh said it was proper "for those who elected Hansen to public office, knowing the facts of her conviction, to decide whether she should serve again."
"They will have an opportunity in November to decide whether anything has changed and it is my view that the voters should make the decision with respect to her continued service," deJongh said.