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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Supreme Court chief justice expresses concern, urges caution on House speaker’s part

Puerto Rico Supreme Court Chief Justice Maite Oronoz Rodríguez

By The Star Staff

Puerto Rico Supreme Court Chief Justice Maite Oronoz Rodríguez called attention on Tuesday to Speaker of the House of Representatives Rafael “Tatito” Hernández Montañez for publicly questioning the decision issued by Judge Anthony Cuevas Ramos in the preliminary indictment lawsuit submitted by Dignity Project Rep. Lisie Burgos Muñíz over the mandatory use of a surgical mask by lower chamber decree.

“During the past few weeks, the Speaker of the House of Representatives has publicly expressed his disagree-ment with some judicial decisions. This is legitimate in a democratic society,” Oronoz Rodríguez said in a written statement. “However, questioning decisions decontex-tualized from the procedures and procedural facts or based on accusations of retaliation does not contribute to the strengthening of justice institutions. On the con-trary, discrediting judges of any judicial forum due to the disagreement generated by a decision contrary to their claims -- such as the statements formulated today -- is not only unfortunate, but also generates deep concern, especially for the public office that whoever issues them occupies, and at the very least motivates a call for cau-tion to avoid undermining confidence in the judiciary.”

“Our judges seek to resolve cases and controversies in light of the law and the evidence presented to them, guaranteeing equality before the justice system of all people who come before the Court to vindicate their rights,” she added. “I urge the Speaker, as leader of the House of Representatives, to promote measures to guarantee the stability and security of the Puerto Rican judiciary, and to take into consideration the fundamental role of judicial independence in our democratic system of government.”

Hernández Montañez attacked Judge Anthony Cuevas Ramos on Tuesday for not allowing the House to express itself before granting a lawsuit filed by Burgos Muñíz over the decree on masking in the lower chamber.

The House, meanwhile suspended in-person opera-tions early Tuesday due to a surge in positive COVID-19 cases (see related story on page 4).

“I have to consider, and this is my personal opinion, that the judge’s decision was a retaliation against all this controversy that is taking place right now with the clash of powers of the House of Representatives and the judiciary,” Hernández Montañez said in a virtual press conference. “That is the only reason why the judge, once again, does not see the merits of a chamber controver-sy; he simply adjudicates without giving the parties the opportunity to make their point.”

“I am going to be honest about this,” the House speaker continued. “I do not consider that what Judge Cuevas did was prudent in awarding the preliminary interdiction without giving the [lower] chamber the opportunity to express itself.”

Regarding the declaration ordering the suspension of face-to-face operations in the House, Hernández Mon-tañez insisted that “[w]e are simply being preventative.”

“Our aspiration is that these numbers go down and we will continue our work as always,” he said.

Cuevas Ramos scheduled a follow-up hearing for this Friday. Hernández Montañez said he will appear.

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