In a last minute ruling, the Virgin Islands Supreme Court said late Sunday Sen.-elect Kevin Rodriquez cannot take the oath of office with the other senators of the 32nd Legislature Monday, despite a ruling by the lower court last week.
Janelle Sarauw, who unsuccessfully ran for the Senate in November, coming in behind Rodriquez, filed suit in early December against Rodriquez and Supervisor of Elections Caroline Fawkes, saying Rodriquez was ineligible to take office because he didn’t meet the residency requirements. The basis for Sarauw’s claim was a 2016 Tennessee filing in which Rodriquez said he was a resident of the state.
Rodriquez has said the bankruptcy filing was an attempt to save a home in Tennessee occupied by his estranged wife and children.
Superior Court Judge Kathleen Mackay ruled in favor of Rodriquez last week stating supporting testimony from several witnesses, including Rodriquez’s wife, that the would-be senator has lived in the U.S. Virgin Islands since 2013, meeting the residency requirement to run for Senate.
The Supreme Court ruling Sunday night said Mackay couldn’t do that, using the rule of judicial estoppel, which precludes a party from taking a position in a case that is contrary to a position it has taken in earlier legal proceedings. The Superior Court had previously issued an injunction barring Rodriquez from taking office.
Rodriquez is no stranger to controversy. He was at the center of the Gov. Kenneth Mapp’s first choice for Attorney General Soraya Diase-Coffelt’s resignation due to micro-management from Government House.
Diase-Coffelt had brought in Rodriquez, who served as Personnel director under former Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, to help with the Dept. of Justice transition process and assess the department’s staffing situation.
In a press conference to clarify her resignation Diase-Coffelt she said Mapp’s then-chief of staff Randolf Knight had told her to get rid of Rodriquez. Furthermore, Diase-Coffelt had objected to the appointment of Terri Griffiths as the solicitor general. She said both Mapp and Knight agreed with her, but then put Griffiths in the high level job anyway.
After Diase-Coffelt resigned, Griffiths became Mapp’s next choice for AG. That didn’t pan out, ostensibly due to Griffith’s volatile actions within the department and after a confrontation with major news media in the territory, Mapp withdrew her appointment.
It was Griffith, who filed the appeal with the Supreme Court, leading to Sunday night’s 11th hour ruling from that court. Griffith had not been Sarauw’s attorney in the initial law suit.