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2014 Unpublished Opinions
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December 4, 2014
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2014-0070
In re: Jamal Morton
      A petition for writ of mandamus filed by a defendant charged with numerous offenses, including first-degree murder, seeking an order directing the Superior Court judge presiding over the underlying criminal matter to issue a merits ruling on a motion for determination of the methods for preserving error during jury selection, is denied. To obtain a writ of mandamus, a petitioner must establish that it has no other adequate means to attain the desired relief and that its right to the writ is clear and indisputable, and the court must be satisfied, in the exercise of its discretion, that the writ is appropriate under the circumstances. The petitioner in this case has failed to meet this high burden. The Superior Court did, in fact, issue an order denying petitioner’s motion, finding it premature, and that court may exercise its discretion to defer a merits ruling on a motion if the interests of judicial economy would be furthered by considering the issue at a later date. Thus petitioner’s right to a merits ruling is not clear and indisputable. In addition, he possesses an adequate alternate means to obtain a merits ruling since it is clear that the Superior Court is amenable to issuing a merits ruling in the event a jury selection issue arises during trial. Thus the petition for writ of mandamus is denied.
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August 14, 2014
S. Ct. Crim. No. 2014-0036
Jimmy Davis v. People of the Virgin Islands
      Summary: An order by the Superior Court denying a motion for reduction of bail is reviewable under the collateral order doctrine, a limited exception to the final judgment rule embodied in 4 V.I.C. § 32(a). Although decisions relating to the amount of bail are ordinarily reviewed only for abuse of discretion, if the decision is based on application of a legal precept it is subject to plenary review. Here the Superior Court clearly denied the motion based on an incomplete analysis of this Court's decision in Rieara v. People, 57 V.I. 659 (V.I. 2012). The fact that a prior judge had already reduced the defendant’s bail is not a sufficient basis on which to deny a Renewed Motion for Reduction of Bail. When the court resolves a motion to modify bail and release conditions, it must make an individualized determination in order to ensure that the bail is not excessive. Any bail or conditions of release that are not tailored to achieve the purpose of bail are considered excessive and therefore unconstitutional. The mere fact that another judge, presented with another motion, had set those conditions is an insufficient basis upon which to refuse to modify the conditions, particularly where the defendant’s new motion includes additional evidence or new and different proffers.. Accordingly, it is reversible error for a judge to summarily deny such a motion simply because it had been denied by another judge. The Order of May 22, 2014 in this matter is reversed and the case is remanded to the Superior Court so that it may rule on the emergency motion without affording any deference to the prior judge’s January 23, 2014 bail ruling.
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June 30, 2014
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2014-0002
Luis Melendez v. People of the Virgin Islands
      An order denying a habeas corpus petitioner's request for court-appointed counsel, and dismissing the underlying petition with prejudice, is reversed. Pursuant to V.I.S.CT. I.O.P. 9.4 this Court may, on motion of a party or sua sponte, summarily reverse a decision of the Superior Court without full briefing by the parties if it clearly appears that no substantial question is presented or that subsequent precedent or a change in circumstances warrants such action. While the court below essentially treated the motion as a free-standing application for appointment of counsel, even the most cursory review reveals that appellant did not simply allege a naked claim of indigence, but also claimed inadequacy of prison law library legal resources bearing upon a prisoner's fundamental right to meaningful access to the courts. Even assuming—without deciding—that the Superior Court correctly held that indigence, without more, does not justify appointment of counsel in a habeas corpus case, there can be no justification for dismissing, without any investigation or analysis, appellant’s claim that his prison does not provide him with sufficient resources to prosecute a pro se habeas corpus petition. Accordingly, the Superior Court's Order of November 15, 2013 Order is summarily reversed, and the matter is remanded for further consideration of the appellant’s claims.
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June 30, 2014
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2014-0023
In re Florence Royer
      A petition seeking a writ of mandamus directing a Superior Court judge presiding over a case pending in that court and the acting clerk of that court to immediately sign and enter judgment on the jury verdict received in the case, is denied. Pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 13(b), no answer to the present petition is required and this matter is decided based upon the petition and the record provided. In this case the post-verdict submission of a proposed judgment and plaintiff's motion for an award of costs, which would increase her recovery, as well as the defendant's renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law, briefed in 2013, remain pending in the court below. To obtain a writ of mandamus, a petitioner must establish that her right to the writ is clear and indisputable. In this case petitioner's right to immediate entry of judgment is not clear and indisputable. While Superior Court Rule 49 requires the judge to sign, and the clerk to enter, a judgment upon determination of an action, in this case a final determination of petitioner's action has not yet occurred. Since the defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law is cognizable under Superior Court Rule 50, a judge is under absolutely no obligation to enter judgment on the jury verdict, which could potentially be set aside if the motion for judgment as a matter of law is granted. Moreover, when—as here—a party moves for costs before entry of judgment on the primary claim has occurred, the better practice is for the trial court to defer entry of the written judgment until after a ruling is made on the issue of attorney’s fees, and incorporate all of its rulings into a single, written judgment so that there will be only one appeal, from one judgment, incorporating all issues in the case. In declining to enter judgment on the jury verdict while motions from both petitioner and the defendant remain pending, the Superior Court judge has exercised his discretion in a manner that furthers judicial economy and prevents piecemeal appeals. Thus, petitioner has failed to meet the criteria for mandamus relief and the petition is denied.
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May 27, 2014
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2014-0024
In re: Kenth W. Rogers
      The petition of a disbarred attorney requesting issuance of a writ of mandamus compelling the Office of Disciplinary Counsel and the Virgin Islands Bar Association to provide him with various documents is denied. Petitioner has failed to establish the requisites for mandamus relief: that he has no other adequate means to attain the desired relief, that his right to the writ is clear and indisputable, and that issuance of the writ is appropriate under the circumstances. Much of the material requested involves transcripts and other documents that were filed with either this Court or the Superior Court in numerous disciplinary proceedings and other matters in which the petitioner was the respondent. These are public records and the availability of obtaining the materials directly from the pertinent courts precludes mandamus relief. As to the materials that were not filed with a court, petitioner also failed to establish that his right to production is clear and indisputable. He identified no legal authority to support his broad “discovery” requests, purported “subpoenas duces tecum,” information requests and demand letters. The Virgin Islands Bar Association is not a government agency and neither the local nor federal Freedom of Information Acts applies to it. The petitioner also failed to establish that a writ of mandamus is appropriate under the circumstances, since the vast majority of these materials are wholly irrelevant to the issues adjudicated in the prior opinions culminating in his disbarment, and the requested materials could have been obtained by simply participating in those proceedings instead of defaulting as he did. Condoning petitioner’s practice would not protect the public and the administration of justice from lawyers, like this petitioner, who have not discharged, will not discharge, or are unlikely to properly discharge their professional duties to the clients, the public, the legal system, and the legal profession. The petition for writ of a mandamus is denied.
      Download Opinion  (25 kb)

February 14, 2014
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2014-0006
Tip Top Construction Corporation v. Government of The Virgin Islands, Department of Property and Procurement
      The motion for injunction pending appeal against the signing of a government contract for certain road enhancement work pending appeal in this litigation is granted. The plaintiff has shown that the balance of equities favors a stay in this matter, and it has shown a substantial case on the merits of this action. The Superior Court found that the Government would not suffer any harm from granting a preliminary injunction. Public confidence in the procurement process is imperative in a democratic society, and the public would benefit from careful consideration of plaintiff’s claims involving a bid nearly $2,000,000 less than the winning bid submitted for the road construction work involved here. Thus – at least at this preliminary stage in this appeal – the balance of the equities favor an injunction pending appeal. Plaintiff has also demonstrated a substantial case on the merits so as to warrant an injunction pending appeal since the fact that a bid is mathematically unbalanced cannot, without more, warrant its rejection, and the record does not show that the bid in this case was thoroughly evaluated as required. The partial temporary injunction, entered by this Court on January 31, 2014, and extending the Temporary Restraining Order originally issued by the Superior Court on December 19, 2013, is hereby extended until this Court fully adjudicates this appeal and the Clerk of Court issues the mandate.
      Download Opinion  (37 kb)
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