Rodriguez Prevails in Election Challenge

ST. THOMAS — A Superior Court judge ruled Thursday that the candidate elected to a seat in the 32nd Legislature, Kevin Rodriguez, can take his oath of office on Monday. Mackay said the opponents Janelle Sarauw and Brigitte Berry failed to convince the court that Rodriguez falsely stated how long he lived in the VI prior to running for office.

The ruling by Superior Court Judge Kathleen Mackay came in at the end of the day on Thursday, three days ahead of a public swearing in ceremony and just before the start of a three day, Three Kings Day holiday weekend. It also arrived one day after a lengthy court hearing presenting witnesses and evidence in the case.

“In the instant case, the Court finds that Plaintiffs have failed to meet their burden of showing actual success on the merits. Without a showing on the first factor, Plaintiffs fail to meet their “burden of making a showing on each of the factors as the Supreme Court requires.” (sic) Therefore the Court will not weigh the remaining factors, and deny the request for a permanent injunction,” Mackay said.

Sarauw and Berry mounted a legal challenge against Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes, the St. Thomas-St. John Board of Elections and Rodriguez following their certification of results from the Nov. 8 General Election.

Sarauw, on the witness stand Wednesday told the court she received an anonymous email on Nov. 21, the day before certification, suggesting something was amiss. Attached to the email came a document showing Rodriguez filed a form with the Tennessee bankruptcy court in January, saying he lived there and nowhere else at the time of filing.

Rodriguez testified Wednesday that he made the statements after being called by his estranged wife and told his children were about to be evicted from the Nashville home where they all lived until 2012.

His wife, Kimberly Rodriguez, testified by phone after being sworn in by a Tennessee notary. She told the court on Wednesday the statements made by her husband in the bankruptcy filing were false.

Mackay, in her memorandum opinion said while she found the statements on the bankruptcy form “troubling,” they were not, by themselves, enough to prove that Kevin Rodriguez left his wife and children behind in Tennessee in 2013 to start a new life in his native St. Thomas.

The judge said the legal challenge hinged on whether the senator-elect was a bona fide resident of the Virgin Islands three years prior to the Nov. 8, 2016 election. But, she said, the Revised Organic Act of 1954 did not define what determined who was a bona fide resident. Neither did the VI Supreme Court define what factors to consider when issuing a permanent injunction.

Had the court issued an injunction, Rodriquez would have been barred from participating in Monday’s swearing in ceremony. But now that the injunction is denied, the temporary restraining order of Dec. 29 will be allowed to expire, freeing him to take his seat when the new Legislative session begins.