While she said there was some inconsistencies in his testimony, V.I. Superior Court Judge Kathleen Mackay ruled that Senator-elect Kevin Rodriquez will still be able to be sworn in Monday along with the other members of the 32nd Legislature.
In a memorandum opinion handed down Friday, Mackay said the testimony of other witnesses presented during a brief bench trial on St. Thomas Wednesday cut through to the heart of a residency challenge presented by former senatorial candidate Janelle Sarauw.
Sarauw filed suit in early December against Rodriquez and Supervisor of Elections Caroline Fawkes, citing a 2016 Tennessee court bankruptcy records in which Rodriquez said he was a resident of the state.
Mackay pointed to testimony given by Rodriquez’s estranged wife Kimberly Rodriquez, who said in court last week that her husband had moved out of their marital home in 2012 and moved to St. Thomas in 2013. She said statements given by community members about positions Rodriquez held at Hope Inc., V.I. Democratic Party and V.I. Legislature, where he worked in 2015 as a staff member for then Sen. Clifford Graham also prompted her to dismiss the case.
While Mackay said Rodriquez’s testimony about his marriage varied from previous hearings on the matter, she noted Rodriquez registered to vote in the territory in May 2014 and in 2016, and filed 2013, 2014 and 2015 tax returns on St. Thomas.
In court last week, Rodriquez said he filed bankruptcy in Tennessee in 2016 after learning from his wife that their home was being foreclosed upon and that she and their two children were being evicted.
“I just jumped on the plane and went to file bankruptcy to have a place for my children to live,” Rodriquez said during Wednesday’s bench trial. Rodriquez added that he didn’t know that he had to be a resident of Tennessee to file for bankruptcy or file an action challenging the foreclosure. He said the house was his primary asset, valued at more than $300,000.
“Based on the homestead exemption, I was afforded the opportunity to file,” Rodriquez said, referring to certain protections offered within the Tennessee bankruptcy code. He added that he had owned the home up to 180 days prior to the proceeding and said that he was able to negotiate a settlement on the house.
The main bone of contention from Sarauw’s camp, however, was that in order to save his house, Rodriquez still said that he was a resident of Tennessee and in order to gain the benefits offered by the bankruptcy court, perjured himself on the stand. Sarauw defense lawyer Edward Berry said that Rodriquez should not now be able to contradict those statements, a concept known in the legal world as judicial estoppel.
In her opinion Friday, Mackay said that her job was to determine whether the two sets of statements – those made during bankruptcy hearings held in Tennessee in 2016 and those made by Rodriquez during the trial – were actually inconsistent. The judge spoke specifically of statements made by Rodriquez about his marriage, whether or not he still owned the house in dispute when he testified at the Tennessee bankruptcy hearings in 2016 and his intention to “be domiciled” in the territory, which she said did vary between hearings.
But, on the topic of his activities within the territory since 2013, which spoke to his “continued presence in the territory,” Mackay found that they were not.
Rodriquez told the Source Saturday that he agrees.
“I don’t believe there were inconsistencies,” Rodriquez added. “I believe that the misinterpretation of how the situation happened, I think that was not probably, in my observation, why she thought there were inconsistencies. But I stated that I left in 2012, I moved to the VI in 2013, in 2014, I applied for custody for my children and that was the sequence of the events as it happened.”
Rodriquez added that he was “relieved” to have had his opportunity in court.
“I know that I didn’t do anything wrong and that I did live in the Virgin Islands for the three years that is required by law,” he said. “And it’s unfortunate that this election had to come to this. It was unfortunate that the people’s will was challenged and that the vote didn’t stand. This has never happened before and we all will learn, history will dictate that we will learn, from this experience in a good and bad way. This was a learning experience in every way.”
Rodriquez added that he is looking forward to Monday’s swearing in and moving forward with initiatives that deal with such issues as affordable health care, reforming the local educational system and developing opportunities that give young men in the territory a second chance.