Restraining Order Granted in Senate Seat Challenge; Appeal Filed With VI Supreme Court

ST. THOMAS — A court issued restraining order granted to a political candidate in the 2016 Senate race has led to an unusual circumstance. As a result of a temporary restraining order, one of the 15 people who were named as winners for the 32nd Legislature will not take the oath of office on Jan. 9.

An appeal is now before the VI Supreme Court. A knowledgeable source says the case could be resolved by next Monday.

By issuing the TRO against Senator-elect Kevin Rodriquez on Dec. 30, Superior Court Judge Kathleen Mackay granted more time to his challenger, candidate Janelle Sarauw, to pursue her demand to decertify his election win.

The judge said there was a chance that Sarauw could prevail, based on the merits of the case. Sarauw, the 2003 VI Carnival Queen who in recent years has taught political science at the University of the Virgin Islands, says Rodriquez did not meet the residency requirement required to run for a Senate seat.

She also said the senator-elect falsely claimed he did when he filled out the application to have his named placed on the ballot. Sarauw finished in eighth place in a district contest where the top seven candidates won.

In her ruling Mackay said Rodriquez might be inconvenienced if the formalities, making him a VI lawmaker in the St. Thomas-St. John district, were put off. But if Sarauw’s challenge prevailed and she were curtailed in her effort by letting Rodriquez take the oath on Jan. 9, her chance at taking a seat in the Legislature would be lost.

Mackay also said the ruling served the public interest because the public wants to know if their elected public officials are obeying the law.

“The Court finds that Plaintiffs have a reasonable possibility of success on the merits; that the likelihood of irreparable harm to the Plaintiffs absent the injunction is greater than the harm Rodriquez will face as a result of the injunction; and that granting an injunction enjoining Rodriquez from taking the oath of office for the 32nd Legislature, pending further orders of the court,” the judge said.

Edward Barry, the lawyer representing the challenger, said Rodriquez has appealed the ruling to the high court on an expedited time frame. If the Supreme Court justices rule, it could happen quickly.

“This thing is on a rocket docket,” Barry said.