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Boston Lawyer Wins for VI Judge

A Boston lawyer won a notable victory this week on behalf of a U.S. Virgin Islands judge when the U.S. District Court in St. Thomas ruled that the V.I.'s judicial discipline board is unconstitutional. The lawyer, Howard M. Cooper, is widely known for the $2.1 million libel verdict he won on behalf of Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Ernest Murphy against The Boston Herald, a verdict unanimously upheld last year by the state Supreme Judicial Court. Thanks to that case and others, Cooper and his firm, Todd & Weld, have earned a reputation in New England as the go-to lawyers for judges on the hot seat.

In the V.I. case, Superior Court Judge Leon Kendall turned to Cooper when he sought to block the V.I. Commission on Judicial Disabilities from hearing complaints about his conduct on the bench. The V.I. legislature created the commission in 1976 with authority to remove judges who commit misconduct. In the three decades since, the commission has rarely had reason to meet. Then last year, the commission received three complaints against Kendall from citizens critical of his decisions to grant low or no bail to defendants accused of violent crimes. Kendall defended his bail rulings, none of which were appealed. But with the commission ready to begin hearings on the complaints, the judge went to federal court, with Cooper arguing on his behalf that the legislature's grant of removal power to the commission violated the principle of separation of powers.

In a 42-page ruling issued Wednesday, U.S. District Chief Judge Curtis V. Gomez agreed with Kendall and entered an order blocking the commission from holding hearings. "Congress has not granted the Virgin Islands Legislature the authority to remove judges," he wrote. "Thus, the Legislature may not delegate such authority to the Commission." As for the Boston lawyer who won the case, Cooper told the Virgin Islands Daily News, "Judge Kendall is thrilled to have acted in a manner that protects the independence of the judiciary."

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Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on January 18, 2008 at 01:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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