Case Caption: In re Samuel L. Joseph, Esq. People of the Virgin Islands v. Rodney F. Miller, Sr.Case Number: S. Ct. Civ. No. 2016-0001Date: 07/08/2016Author: Swan, Ive Arlington Citation: Summary:

In an appeal by the Chief Public Defender in the Office of the Territorial Public Defender from Superior Court orders which involuntarily appointed him to represent a specific criminal defendant, jurisdiction is accepted and the appointment orders are vacated. Jurisdiction is exercised under the collateral order doctrine, upon a finding that the orders below conclusively determine the disputed question, resolve an important issue completely separate from the merits of the action, and are effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment. On the merits, the Superior Court lacks the authority to assign a specific public defender from the Office of the Territorial Public Defender to represent an indigent defendant. Creation of a public defender office or system has been an obligation reserved for and delegated to the legislative branch, given that it wields the power of the purse. Under 5 V.I.C. § 3503(a) the legislature vested the Office of the Territorial Public Defender with the primary responsibility of representing indigent defendants. In 1998 the Office became governed by the Public Defender Administration Board, and an extensive statutory scheme governs the Office of the Territorial Public Defender. A plain language reading of 5 V.I.C. § 3503(a) confirms that the legislature empowered the court to appoint the Office of the Territorial Public Defender to represent indigent defendants, rather than have a selection of public defenders at its disposal. There is neither an express nor inferential authority of a judge to assign representation of an indigent defendant to a specific public defender of the court's choosing. Oversight of the Office is not the court's prerogative, and the legislature intended to create a self-regulating and independent public defender system for the representation of indigent defendants, within which the Chief Public Defender administers the operations of the Office and accounts to the Public Defender Administration Board. With the exception of indigency determinations, the statutes simply do not authorize the court to be involved in the managerial decisions of the Office of the Territorial Public Defender, which includes case assignments to specific attorneys in its employ. The absence of language in the governing statute prohibiting a judge from assigning a specific attorney from the Office of the Territorial Public Defender does not imply that a judicial action is permitted. Nor does the statute governing in forma pauperis proceedings, 4 V.I.C. § 513, diminish the fact that case assignments in the Office of the Territorial Public Defender are not even remotely within the province of the court. It is the Chief Public Defender-and not the court-who possesses statutory managerial authority, and is best positioned to assess the Office's resources and experience of its lawyers, in achieving effective case management. Accordingly the Superior Court's orders appointing the Chief Public Defender personally to represent a named defendant in the underlying criminal proceedings are vacated and this case is remanded so that the Superior Court may appoint the Office of the Territorial Public Defender, leaving the determination as to the specific attorney to be assigned to be made within the discretion of the Chief Public Defender.

Attachment: Open Document or Opinion