Case Caption: In re Justin K. Holcombe People of the Virgin Islands v. Ralph Edwards Titre, Jr. and In re Robert L. King People of the Virgin Islands v. Rosemary Sauter FrettCase Number: S. Ct. Civ. No. 2015-0007 and S. Ct. Civ. No. 2015-0066Date: 11/25/2015Author: Hodge, Rhys S. Citation: Summary:

The Court has accepted jurisdiction of appeals by two members of the Virgin Islands Bar seeking review of orders which appointed them to serve involuntarily as counsel for certain indigent criminal defendants. For the reasons explained in this Opinion, the Superior Court may not involuntary conscript attorneys to provide services for indigent defendants, and it erred when it appointed the two appellant attorneys to represent criminal defendants involuntarily, without first establishing a panel of attorney volunteers and making appointments from that panel. The Legislature of the Virgin Islands, acting pursuant to its authority to create local law, enacted a statute, 5 V.I.C. § 3503(a), which provides that appointment of counsel for indigent defendants should be made from a panel of private attorneys when the Office of the Territorial Public Defender is unable to undertake the representation. Because the Superior Court's practice of appointing private attorneys from a list of all members of the Virgin Islands Bar to involuntarily serve in this capacity violates this statute, that court's December 30, 2014 and July 9, 2015 appointment orders appealed in the present case are vacated and the Superior Court is directed to appoint counsel for indigent defendants in a manner that complies with Virgin Islands law. Enforcement of this decision is stayed until March 1, 2016, with respect to all other members of the Virgin Islands Bar who remain subject to involuntary appointments under the Superior Court's current practice-other than the two present appellants-so that the Superior Court may establish and maintain a panel of attorney volunteers in compliance with § 3503(a) after review of indigent defense rules from jurisdictions similar to the Virgin Islands and considering feedback from the Virgin Islands Bar Association, the public, and other stakeholders, so that it may establish a panel, and otherwise craft procedures for appointment of counsel to indigent defendants that comply with 5 V.I.C. § 3503(a) and other applicable laws. If the Superior Court fails to do so prior to this deadline, this Court reserves the authority to establish procedures for the appointment of counsel in the first instance pursuant to its statutory and inherent powers, in order to ensure that members of the Virgin Islands Bar are not systematically conscripted to provide indigent defense in violation of Virgin Islands statutory law.

Attachment: Open Document or Opinion