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HomeNewsLocal newsCourt Sets Payne-Suit Deadline, Calls Legislature’s Motion “Patently Frivolous”

Court Sets Payne-Suit Deadline, Calls Legislature’s Motion “Patently Frivolous”

The Legislature told the Virgin Islands Supreme Court it feared a Superior Court judge would take their motions to stay and switch courts “personally.” (Photo by Mat Probasco)

Former Sen. Steven Payne Sr. and lawyers for the 34th Legislature have until Jan. 11 to explain why Payne’s lawsuit about his expulsion from the Senate should remain in the Superior Court or be transferred to the Virgin Islands Supreme Court, according to court documents.

The Legislature jettisoned Payne in 2022 after a series of sexual misconduct allegations. Payne sued, arguing the Legislature had the power to censor a senator but not expel. Complicating matters is an apparent clash between the Legislature and Superior Court Judge Renee Gumbs Carty.

Court rules require first asking the assigned Superior Court judge to pause or stay the case while seeking to move it to the Supreme Court. The Legislature skipped this step, telling Supreme Court Chief Justice Rhys Hodge they feared Carty would react “angrily” and “take the motion personally.”

Hodge denied the Legislature’s recent motion to stay the case — essentially stopping the legal process — but said he would allow senators to refile the motion after both Payne and the Legislature had responded to the petition to move the trial — scheduled for March — to the Supreme Court. Hodge also assured the Superior Court would rule “without bias.”

On Nov. 30, 2023, Judge Gumbs Carty issued a sharp rebuke to members of the 34th Legislature, denying their motion for an immediate stay of proceedings and another motion questioning her authority to preside over the case while her term on the bench was allegedly expired.

The Legislature had set a deadline of Dec. 1 for Gumbs Carty to respond to its motion questioning her jurisdiction from Dec. 1, 2022, when it alleged her appointment to the V.I. Superior Court expired, and May 14, when she was designated a senior sitting judge by the chief justice.

Carty warned the Legislature it was violating court rules by filing frivolous motions.

Justice Hodge agrees, writing in his Dec. 29, 2023 opinion: “… the Superior Court’s November 30, 2023 order is certainly an appropriate response to the filing of a patently frivolous motion in which a litigant both purported to command the judicial officer to personally respond to questioning by a specified date and questioned her authority to hear the case without any legal or factual basis whatsoever.”

Meanwhile, Payne is facing sexual battery charges in Florida after he was arrested in September in Orlando on an out-of-county warrant from Duval County in the northeastern part of the state. He has pleaded not guilty and is currently free on $250,003 bail.

According to the information sheet filed on the Duval County Circuit Court docket, Payne is accused of sexual battery on a person older than 12 but younger than 18 that involved penetration with a sex toy. The alleged incident happened on or between Aug. 1, 2018, and Feb. 27, 2019, while Payne was in a position of “familial or custodial authority.”

Payne’s next pre-trial hearing will take place on Jan. 10 at the court located in Jacksonville, Florida. It appears from the docket that a final pre-trial conference is scheduled for Aug. 22 and jury selection for Aug. 26.

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