The courts of the U.S. Virgin Islands, like other courts throughout the U.S., have fees, fines and other debts owed by parties. Like those courts and their respective legislatures, the idea of intercepting tax refunds to help offset these debts has recently come to the fore in the form of BR 11-1153. Under the proposal the Virgin Islands Bureau of Internal Revenue would be permitted to withhold payment of income tax returns to taxpayers who have outstanding financial obligations with the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands. The bill was formally introduced in November 2011 (as 29-0242) but held in the Legislature’s Rules and Judiciary Committee 3/29/12.
Another, more successful, piece of legislation was a BR 12-1524 involving direct appeals from the Virgin Islands’ Supreme Court to the U.S. Supreme Court. First, some background.
The Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands was created in 2004 and took on complete appellate jurisdiction for the territory in 2007. However, under the Section 23 of the Revised Organic Act of 1954, appeals from Virgin Islands’ courts went to the Third Circuit, rather than the U.S. Supreme Court directly (as is the case with appeals from courts of last resort in the U.S. states). The judges of the Third Circuit were to report to Congress every 5 years on whether the VI Supreme Court “has developed sufficient institutional traditions to justify direct review by the Supreme Court of the United States from all such final decisions.” The first report came out in 2012 and recommended just such a direct appeal route.
BR 12-1524 urges Congress to amend the Revised Organic Act to direct appeals from the V.I. Supreme Court directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, as occurs with the court of last resort in the U.S. states and D.C. It was approved on 6/27/12.
Other legislation of note over the last year included:
BR 11-0164: Increases penalties for assaults on judges.
BR 11-0227: Increases Magistrate and Small Claims Division civil jurisdiction from $10,000 to $25,000. In Public Safety Committee.
BR 11-0240 (introduced as 29-0163): Creates Judicial Branch Management Committee. Removes various powers from Supreme Court and Chief Justice. Gives committee power to adopt rules, establish policies, and take any other appropriate action pertaining to the operations of the Judicial Branch and all local courts within the Virgin Islands court system. In House Rules and Judiciary Committee.
BR 11-0264: Provides for appeal from Magistrate Division of Superior Court directly to V.I. Supreme Court in some cases. Tabled indefinitely in Rules and Judiciary Committee 12/11/12
BR 11-0281 (introduced as 29-0297) : Permits Magistrate Division of the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands to hear all misdemeanors. Held in the Legislature’s Rules and Judiciary Committee 3/29/12 and 7/23/12.