Former Employee Asks “Where Are V.I. Legal Counsel Salaries Going?”

Dear Senators: 

The Division of Personnel’s employee salary payroll records published on September 27, 2006, state that the Law Revision Commission has two attorneys on their payroll; myself, and Edward Wascoe, who had left the Virgin Islands before I took his position as Legal Counsel in 2002. I have not received any money from the V.I. Government  since January, 2003. Therefore, one must ask, who has been receiving these salaries for the last three years? I met with Personnel Director Kevin Rodriquez a few months ago in regard to my employment with the V.I. government, so he has personal knowledge of these facts, as does the Law Revision Commission itself.

When I was Legal Counsel to the Law Revision Commission, I adapted the Uniform Probate, Trust, Guardianship and Conservatorship Laws for the U.S. Virgin Islands. These uniform laws will greatly simplify V.I. probate and trust matters, and for the first time we will have Guardianship and Conservatorship laws to protect those who need protection most: the children who do not have any legal guardians and adults who are incapacitated.

The goal of this new body of legislation, in combination with the court approved legal templates and seminars, is to benefit all citizens, and to greatly aid the Superior Court in the administration of all probate issues through the use of clear laws and everyone using the same uniform legal documents. Virgin Islanders, for the first time, may conduct their own simple Probate, Guardianship and Conservatorship matters themselves, in months, without spending thousands of dollars or waiting several years for a court decision. These new laws and legal forms will also facilitate the sale of real estate in probate, which will bring in needed revenues to our government. Attorneys will be able to deal with complex cases more easily and pass the savings on to their clients.

Although they no doubt desired that this work be accomplished, the commissioners of the Law Revision Commission (LRC) never met with me at any time during this undertaking, and I was not given any executive or secretarial support. The LRC’s longstanding secretary, refused to do any work for me. She never typed a word, often did not even answer the telephone, prevented me from using the printer, and she and her children disrupted my afternoon work on a regular basis. At no time in my legal career have I worked under such conditions.The LRC secretary constantly sprayed Raid into my office, and when I reported this to the Chairman, the secretary actually sprayed Raid in my face, and threatened my life. This woman shouted at me on several occasions that her husband, a police sergeant, carried a loaded weapon, and that I had better watch out from now on.

The Executive Director, Sharon Peets, was a witness to these actions, and these incidents are well documented in hand-delivered letters to Chairman Smock and Vice Chairman Gimenez, Legal Counsel to the Governor. Not one of these people in positions of power and control did anything to modify the secretary’s outrageous, unprofessional behavior. Please note that despite these intolerable work conditions I did not file a lawsuit or have OSHA investigate; I simply asked for the secretary’s reassignment and requested at least a part time secretary or a proofreader to help with the work, but I was advised that the secretary was well-connected, and if I wished to complete the legislation, to keep my head down and do it alone, so I did. I modified and proofread this entire body of laws and also created and typed 500+ pages of notes and appendices myself, alone.

I established a good working relationship with the top Probate expert in the United States, David English, Joint Editor of the Uniform Probate Laws, and Michelle Clayton, Legislative Counsel to The National Conference of Commissioners of Uniform Laws, and adapted and modified the laws for this jurisdiction. In July, 2006, the V.I. Senate’s Chief Counsel, Yvonne Tharpes, met with David English and Michelle Clayton, and on August 10, 2006, I met Chief Counsel Tharpes and she affirmed that the probate, trust, guardianship and conservatorship laws would be “in committee” in Septem-ber.      

However, it is critical to understand that the laws themselves are but one of three components which are necessary to implement these changes. Vital to these laws are the uniform legal documents to process each case. On the recommendation of Professor English, I have been working with the Honorable Larry Zastrow, Deputy Director of the State Bar Association of South Dakota, in regard to utilizing and modifying South Dakota forms, which he and his wife Anita M. Zastrow drafted, as a model for the U.S. Virgin Islands. Deputy Director Zastrow was most courteous in regard to the concept of our using their 220+ South Dakota forms as templates, and modifying the simpler
Probate, Guardianship and Conservator-ship forms for the use of ordinary citizens. Further, despite the fact that these forms are normally used and paid for by attorneys, (which would be very costly to our attorneys and our Territory), Deputy Director Larry and Anita Zastrow and the State Bar of South Dakota have been extremely gracious, and they have donated their legal templates to me for use in this worthy Virgin Islands Probate Project.

I have also been in communication with Superior Court Judge Patricia Steele, who is our foremost justice in probate matters. Justice Steele has agreed to review these legal forms, so in this way the uniform legal templates, with any modifications, would be accepted by the Superior Court and used in all court filings.

The third aspect of this project will be seminars for the Superior Court judiciary and clerks, attorneys, and public question and answer sessions held for the benefit of all citizens interested in filing these cases themselves. We  involved has a clear understanding of how to apply these laws. Pro-fessor English, Michelle Clayton, South Dakota Bar Deputy Director Larry and Anita Zastrow have ag-reed to come to the Virgin Islands and conduct these seminars.                                   
I have unswervingly been working on all details of this project since I was Legal Counsel to the LRC, because the other two sections of this project need to be completed on or about the time the laws are enacted. I have asked various senators and governmental agencies for their support. Senate President Berry has given her support for these new laws from the beginning, and it is because of the help and support of Senate President Berry and the legal experts, English, Clayton and the Zastrows, that I have continued with this work even though I have not been paid since January, 2003.

I have been working on this Probate Project for the sake of everyone who lives here, and its importance especially to the underprivileged. In order for me to do this work without being paid, my mother and I had to remortgage our home in Massachusetts, and also had to borrow money. Now we all learn, from Personnel’s released employee salary records, that either Personnel has been giving my paychecks, (and Ed Wascoe’s) to someone else, or that the money is still there.

In addition, the Law Revision Commission has been given $300,000 to pay for a trainee and the two “support staff” who did not help my work as Legal Counsel. Where did that one million two hundred thousand dollars ($1,200,000) go to in the past 4 years? Was it all paid to print documents or updates? In 2002, they would not even buy a printer for the laws I was writing. Surely $180,000, which covers my work, the experts stipends, their transportation and lodging, all seminars, manuals for judges and clerks and pamphlets as well as all legal templates for the people of the Virgin Islands is appropriate, and by funding this project now, the 26th Legislature will then leave a great legacy to all the people of the Virgin Islands.

As your website proclaims, “…it behooves governments the world over to subscribe to a policy of transparency at all levels of governance. The people of this earth should enjoy this transparency not as a concession bestowed from ‘above’ but as an entitlement.”

Let us look to Personnel and the Law Revision Commission with this policy of transparency that you state we are entitled to. With your support by securing the funds for this Probate Project, The 26th Legislature of the Virgin Islands will be helping every citizen and every family in your constituency, the very people who elected you. As long as I have the funding to do the work now, the entire project should be completed no later than June, 2007. 

Thank you for your kind consideration in regard to this matter.

Sincerely yours,
Susan K. Wolterbeek