Governor’s Supreme Court appointment to be put under Legislative Assembly test
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to the STAR
Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced’s appointment to the Puerto Rico Supreme Court will be under the Legislative Assembly’s consideration today after she announced Sunday morning that Puerto Rico Court of Appeals Judge Maritere Brignoni Mártir is her pick to fill the seat that retiring Associate Justice Anabelle Rodríguez Rodríguez is expected to vacate as early as this week.
While confirming Sunday that Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz had requested in November to be considered for the island Supreme Court, the governor said her appointment was determined after “a demanding and rigorous analysis,” and that she wanted the seat to be occupied again by a woman.
“Already at the end of a constitutional mandate, which began on August 7, 2019, I am contributing an important page of my life and that of Puerto Rico by appointing an associate justice of the Supreme Court, a space won by a woman when Judge Anabelle Rodríguez became the third judge to reach the high court,” Vázquez said, emphasizing that the current Court of Appeals judge has become the sixth woman to be appointed to the island’s top court.
When a member of the press asked why she appointed Brignoni Mártir, she insisted that “from the beginning, I expressed that my intentions were to appoint a woman to the Supreme Court.”
“So, in that sense, I wanted a person who held all the intellectual credentials and contributions to the legal system, mainly, to exalt that position to the Supreme Court,” added the governor. “I know Judge Brignoni Mártir; therefore, I know her qualifications, I knew what she was doing, I knew the way in which she resolved her cases and I believed she was the appropriate person for the position of associate justice at the Supreme Court.”
Vázquez also appointed certified public accountant (CPA) Kermit Lucena Zabala as commonwealth comptroller to succeed Comptroller Yesmín Valdivieso after her 10-year tenure.
As for that appointment, she said an earlier attempt in which she appointed Secretary of State Osvaldo Soto for the position, who later dropped out when the Legislative Assembly considered him unqualified, led her to assume “the great responsibility of appointing a candidate who would represent for Puerto Rico experience, prestige and recognition from the professional community.”
“Just a few months ago it was the decision of the Legislative Assembly that the person appointed to this position, even though the law does not require it, had to be a CPA,” the governor said. “Here, professional organizations and prestigious former accountants expressed that this should be the case.”
As for her expectations for the process within the Legislative Assembly, Vázquez said she will respect any determination from that branch.
“I believe that both the judge and the CPA are professionals who have dedicated their lives, the judge to a great extent, to public service, in the same manner as Kermit has done for the certified public accountants,” she said. “Therefore, what we expect, as the people of Puerto Rico do, is to give them the opportunity to present their credentials, and that their qualifications and merits are evaluated.”
Regarding her conversation with Rivera Schatz, Vázquez said the Senate president expressed his interest in the Supreme Court seat after she met with him in relation to the bills issued in this month’s special session.
“... [A]t that time he indicated that he wanted to be considered for that position,” she said. “But we had already talked about the fact that there was a candidate, who was Maritere Brignoni. It was a very cordial dialogue.”
Nonetheless, the governor said there was no further conversation with Rivera Schatz after that.
Brignoni Mártir, meanwhile, said she is interested in “providing access to justice.”
“It’s something that we, judges, always have to protect, so any citizen, no matter their economic or social condition, whoever needs to bring their controversies, situations, problems to a court, has the chance for a court to evaluate, analyze and rule always in accordance with the law,” Brignoni Mártir said. “I fight for cases not to be dismissed.”
Lucena Zabala noted that at the first opportunity he will “speak with Valdivieso and her staff about creating an intervention program” to provide oversight “on the federal recovery funds to be received in the next 10 years and to be allocated to municipalities” in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria, to “guarantee to the federal government that the funds are being managed adequately.”
Elected officials in favor of Supreme Court appointment
In a written statement, Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón applauded Judge Brignoni Mártir’s appointment to the Supreme Court, calling Vázquez’s choice “successful.”
“I have known Judge Brignoni for more than 10 years and I am aware of her professionalism, commitment, and impeccable reputation,” González Colón said as she pointed out the nominee’s work in the executive and judicial branches, and in private practice. “A woman who practices justice every day, with a fine balance of nobility and firmness that will undoubtedly make her an exceptional Supreme Court justice.”
The resident commissioner, who was re-elected to a second term last month, highlighted the merits, capabilities and skills outlined by a 2012 report from the Puerto Rico Senate Public Safety Committee and the Judicial Affairs Committee back when Brignoni Mártir was appointed for the Court of Appeals, to which she added that “all interviewees described the nominee as professional, knowledgeable and organized.”
Governor-elect Pedro Pierluisi, meanwhile, said in a written statement that Brignoni Mártir “has an unblemished reputation, a productive career in public service, extensive legal knowledge and the necessary mettle to be an Associate Justice of the Puerto Rico Supreme Court.”
“I know her personally as a person of integrity and judgment, and I distinguish her by her human quality and professionalism,” Pierluisi said. “I support her nomination to our highest court.”
Although Rivera Schatz did not respond directly to the appointment, he said on his Facebook page that “following the Governor’s announcement of additional appointments, we have called the Senate [into session] for tomorrow at 1 p.m.”
“There are only 6 working days left to attend to the group of 100 initial appointments, in addition to those announced today [Sunday], but to be submitted tomorrow. Time is short and responsibility is great,” the Senate president said. “Anyone interested in expressing their views on the nominees can do so through the Senate website.”