A ruling by a St. Croix judge directly applies the territory’s open records law to the West Indian Co. Ltd. for the first time.
Superior Court Judge Robert Molloy held Friday that the territory’s open records law applies to the government instrumentality, and cited numerous other court rulings that have declared the entity a government agency over the years.
“WICO is clearly a part of the government of the Virgin Islands,” he wrote. “And, because there are only three branches of government, it necessarily follows — and this court holds — that for purposes of the Virgin Islands Public Records Act, WICO is a public agency within the executive branch of the government of the Virgin Islands.”
The declaration comes in a case involving the St. Croix Avis newspaper, which sued to obtain records pertaining to the residence of former Gov. Kenneth Mapp.
“This case originated from a request for records pertaining to Villa Fratelli, one of the rental properties Governor Mapp stayed at while on St. Thomas,” Molloy wrote.
The Avis and The Daily News requested numerous documents from WICO during the Mapp administration, many of which were rebuffed or ignored. The Avis took the matter to court, where it lingered for years, until the election of Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. Following the election, Molloy scheduled a status conference.
WICO voluntarily responded to the Avis’ records request — no such response has been received by The Daily News — and argued that the decision to disclose the records rendered the matter moot.
Molloy agreed that it was moot, but only in part. Since other documents requested by the Avis had not yet been provided, the opportunity for further judgment was left open, Molloy wrote.
WICO attorneys originally argued that West Indian Co. is not a government agency, because it does not receive government funds, Molloy wrote.
Since newspapers can get documents “from other entities and because WICO is not a government agency, the petition should be denied, WICO concludes,” Molloy recounted of the attorneys’ motion.
“WICO’s argument is made even less persuasive by the fact that the Legislature listed WICO as a governmental instrumentality in legislation passed in 2009,” he wrote.
WICO lawyers also argued that it fell outside the definition offered by the Open Records Act of a government agency because of its funding. Molloy disagreed, pointing out the statute offers two definitions of a public entity.
“WICO is correct in that it does not receive governmental funds for its operation or having bonding authority under the Government,” he wrote. “But the term ‘governmental entity’ appear twice within section 883 and WICO satisfies the first definition. Therefore, WICO’s argument is rejected.”
While WICO’s board has changed its position relative to the law, the legal question remained, Molloy wrote.
“WICO, through counsel, represented years later in open court that WICO’s board had changed its position on the Virgin Islands Public Records Act,” he wrote. “Parties cannot stipulate to the law.”
WICO governing board chairman Joseph Boschulte declined to comment Monday, citing a pending legal matter.