Superior Court Judge Anthony Cuevas Ramos ordered the Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló Nevares, to "cease and desist" from interfering with the operation of the Puerto Rico Statistics Institute and ordered the reinstatement of the four directors that Rosselló removed last year in order to give way to his own appointees.
In a 35-page decision in which the judge extensively discusses jurisprudence regarding the appointment and dismissal of officials and members of boards of directors, Cuevas Ramos concluded that Governor Rosselló Nevares acted contrary to the law when, applying the Act 3-2017, he removed directors, whose authority are not exclusive to the executive branch.
Cuevas Ramos´ decision in the case of the Institute of Statistics represents the first setback Rosselló Nevares receives for a law passed under his administration.
Similarly, Cuevas Ramos´s ruling is the first fissure in the Act 3 of 2017, the statute that expanded the powers of the governor and those of the Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority (FAFAA) in order to address the fiscal crisis and ensure the implementation of the federal PROMESA Law.
"The dismissal of the claimants as members of the Institute was null and illegal," reads the ruling of Cuevas Ramos on the removal of directors Antonio Fernós Sagebién, Ana L. Dávila Román, Marta Álvarez Burgos and Sonia Balet Dalmau.
After learning about the decision, Rosselló Nevares told El Nuevo Día that he will examine the ruling against him.
"Like in any legal process, we will be evaluating the options. I will read the decision and then we will inform our course of action," said the Governor.
ccording to Cuevas Ramos´ decision, which, among other things, is based on jurisprudence established by the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, "the scope of the power of the chief executive to dismiss officials subordinated to him necessarily depends on the functions exercised by the official and if they are the essence of executive power."
"We understand that this situation of uncertainty is causing damage to the Institute and, eventually, to Puerto Rico, because it affects the validity and effectiveness of the decisions made and announced by both boards," the superior judge said.
Cuevas Ramos ruling came a day after, in a clear signal of support to the Statistics Institute, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY), William C. Dudley, visited the headquarters of the entity created in 2003
On previous occasions, Dudley has asked the government of Puerto Rico for reliable and independent statistics as a critical issue for the recovery of the Island.
Despite its importance and the recognition of international entities such as the World Economic Forum and several federal agencies, the Statistics Institute has always operated in adversity.
It was created in 2003, but had no employees or received a budget until almost five years later. In the beginning, the entity did not even have a physical space to settle itself. At present, the Institute operates with a $2.3 million budget and has 14 employees.
On July 21, 2017, in a confusing process, Rosselló Nevares dismissed four of the seven directors of the Institute appointed under the Alejandro García Padilla administration. Meanwhile, he left two directors who had been appointed under the administration of Luis Fortuño, Bethsié Rosa Reyes and Alex López Echegaray. Immediately after, the Governor appointed the president of the Planning Board, María Gordillo, and the Public Accountant Jeanelle Alemar Escabí.
He also re-appointed the director of the Statistics Institute and member of the Abre Puerto Rico organization, Arnaldo Cruz Sanabria.
Among other things, article 29 of Act 3- 2017 authorized the Governor to remove from office any member of a board of directors of any entity -including the University of Puerto Rico- if the chief executive understands that said director "does not execute the public policy established by him or does not enjoy his confidence" to implement the fiscal plan required by the federal PROMESA Law.
Back then, El Nuevo Día reported that the dismissal of the directors happened while they were preparing to appoint a new executive director, after holding an open call. This process, according to court documents, was cut short once the candidates withdrew their aspirations after hearing the decision of Rosselló Nevares regarding the governing body.
In explaining the reasons that the governor had for his actions, the Secretary of Public Affairs of La Fortaleza, Ramón Rosario Cortés, told El Nuevo Día that "the board was preparing to make an appointment to head the Institute, which tied our hands."
Given the situation, executive director Mario Marazzi-Santiago went to court and requested an injunction until it was determined which of the two governing bodies was the legitimate one.
Rossello Nevares and the directors appointed by him, through the Ministry of Justice, alleged in court that Marazzi-Santiago had no power in law to initiate the litigation and requested the dismissal.
Power to dismiss
After examining the law created the Statistics Institute, Cuevas Ramos concluded that Marazzi-Santiago has the authority to initiate the claim and proceeded to resolve the dispute.
"The letter sent by the governor to the co-defendants on July 21, 2017 has no legal support," the judge said in reference to the dismissal letter issued by Rosselló Nevares.
According to the organic law of the Statistics Institute, the directors of that entity have "quasi-legislative" and "quasi-judicial" powers and can only be removed from their positions for just cause and after having been heard, and that did not happen.
"The governor has no authority, in accordance with the rule established in the cases revised and the Constitution, to dismiss the claimants. These are quasi-legislative and quasi-adjudicative / judicial officials who do not formulate and implement the public policy of Puerto Rico and are out of the scope of the authority or power of the Governor to dismiss them," indicated Cuevas Ramos in his ruling.
"The reinstatement of the co-defendants to their positions as members of the board of directors of the Institute is ordered," the judge ordered.
Deaf ears before the Board
The dismissal of the directors of the Puerto Rico Statistics Institute that resulted in yesterday's ruling is not unique.
Last year, Rosselló Nevares, invoking the authority given to him in Act 3, removed the directors of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA).
The Governor's decision was strongly criticized by the bondholders of the public corporation, but it also resulted in a formal recommendation under section 205 of PROMESA on behalf of the Board on changes to be made to the statute.
The recommendation of the Board came in August last year, when the entity urged Rosselló Nevares to amend Act 3-2017. The purpose was to incorporate to article 29 that the directors of a governing body could be removed from their positions "when there is a cause" for it.
"Like all the recommendations made by the Board, we will read it, we will evaluate it and, within the period of time allowed by law, we will be issuing a response," said Rosselló Nevares then.
It is still unknown whether Rosselló Nevares will adopt the recommendation or, in case he won’t, he has already informed his decision to Congress and to the president of the United States, as established by PROMESA.
It is also unknown whether the Board has attempted to implement this guideline or not.
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