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Appeals Court Rejects NPP Request To Rehear Disputed Ballot Case, Reconsideration Was Called An "Uphill Battle"… PIP Is Close To Reinscription… Acevedo To Nominate Cabinet, NPP Legislative Majority Ready With Own Mandate… Gov’t, IAU Explore Water Strike Impasse Alternatives… Input On Coral Reef Protection Sought

Appeals Court Rejects Request To Rehear Puerto Rico Election Case


December 22, 2004
Copyright © 2004 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

BOSTON (AP) - A federal appeals court on Wednesday rejected a request to reconsider its ruling giving Puerto Rico's Supreme Court jurisdiction over disputed ballots in the island's gubernatorial election.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it would not hold a rehearing by a three-judge panel or a new hearing before the full, six-judge court on a petition by former Gov. Pedro Rossello, whose is trying to throw out thousands of disputed ballots favoring his rival, Anibal Acevedo Vila.

Rossello, saying he wanted to prevent an "extraordinary injustice" to voters, asked the 1st Circuit on Tuesday to reconsider last week's ruling, which found that Puerto Rico's Supreme Court, not a federal judge on the island, had jurisdiction over the ballots.

The ruling was a setback for Rossello because Puerto Rico's Supreme Court had already declared the votes valid in an earlier lawsuit.

The 1st Circuit gave no explanation for its decision not to reconsider, but simply said a majority of the six judges had voted against the second hearing.

The disputed elections have deepened divisions in the U.S. Caribbean territory of 4 million people who have argued for decades about whether to become a U.S. state, remain a U.S. commonwealth or move toward independence.

Acevedo Vila supports keeping Puerto Rico's status as a U.S. commonwealth, while Rossello favors statehood.

Preliminary election results from Nov. 2 showed Acevedo Vila, of the Popular Democratic Party, narrowly leading Rossello, of the New Progressive Party, 48.38 percent to 48.18 percent.

Rossello is disputing ballots in which voters not only marked Acevedo Vila's name, but also marked an "x" for the tiny Independence Party.

Acevedo Vila's supporters say Puerto Rico's laws allow voters to cast "mixed votes" to support keeping the Independence Party registered while also supporting candidates from other parties.

In its Dec. 15 ruling, the appeals court said "there is no clearly articulated Commonwealth policy, much less a statute" that indicates ballots marked for Acevedo Vila and the Independence Party are invalid.

But in his petition for reconsideration, Rossello said the court's decision was "patently erroneous."

Rossello claims that the Puerto Rico Election Commission changed the rules governing the disputed ballots after the election.

"The panel's decision thus wrongly endorses a post-election change in the voting rules which gives more weight to the ballots of certain voters than to the votes cast by nearly two million voters who followed the pre-election rules," Rossello's petition states.

"Neither the panel nor the full court should allow such manifest constitutional violations to decide the election in Puerto Rico."

NPP Asks Boston Court To Reconsider Decision

December 21, 2004
Copyright © 2004 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — Pedro Rossello on Tuesday asked the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston to reevaluate its decision to return the controversial case about the mixed-vote ballots to the Puerto Rico courts.

Rossello, the New Progressive candidate for governor, argued once more that the federal Constitution affects the case and because of this, it must be the federal judge for the district of Puerto Rico, Daniel Dominguez, who decides the case.

"The decision of the panel mistakenly endorses a post-election change in the rules of voting that gives more value to the votes of some, in comparison with the votes issued by more than 2 million voters that followed the rules that were provided before the elections were held," the document filed by the NPP says.

The request for the full court to hear the case seeks to reverse the decision of a panel of three judges of the same court that last Wednesday decided unanimously that the Puerto Rico Supreme Court, and not the federal judge on the island, has jurisdiction over the controversial ballots.

The Supreme Court decided that the disputed ballots must be adjudicated as valid.

[The request is considered a long shot. But unless the three-judge panel's Dec. 16 ruling is overturned, all 28,000 mixed ballots at the center of Puerto Rico's disputed race for governor will be counted. And nearly all of them are votes for Aníbal Acevedo Vilá of the Popular Democratic Party.

The request for a rehearing will put the issue of jurisdiction into the hands of a six-judge panel from Boston's 1st Circuit Court of Appeals. Three of the judges will be the same ones who issued last week's ruling.

It's expected the new panel will rule on the matter within a week or so, court officials said.

Meanwhile, Puerto Rico's Elections Commission said its ongoing recount in the governor's race should be completed Thursday afternoon, enabling the commission to declare a winner in the governor's race between Acevedo Vilá and Rosselló of the New Progressive Party.

That should let the new governor be sworn in on schedule Jan. 2, election officials said.]

NPP Lawyer Says Boston Reconsideration Is "Uphill Battle"

December 21, 2004
Copyright © 2004 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — One of the lawyers for the New Progressive Party said it will be difficult for the party to prevail in its request for reconsideration, filed Tuesday before the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston in relation to the complaint about mixed votes.

Attorney Luis Berrios said the request for the full Circuit to evaluate the decision by three of its judges that the federal forum does not have jurisdiction in the Puerto Rican elections must be submitted before midday Tuesday, as stipulated by the appellate panel.

"This type of request to the courts is more of an uphill battle because there already is a decision," Berrios said, according to media reports.

Nevertheless, the NPP lawyer said, in the request he will present arguments about why the party feels Judges Juan R. Torruellas, Norman Stahl and Jeffrey Howard "made a mistake."

Dalmau Says PIP Is Close To Reinscription

December 21, 2004
Copyright © 2004 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — Puerto Rican Independence Party Election Commissioner Juan Dalmau said his party is very close to validating all 100,000 signatures necessary to reinscribe the party.

Dalmau said the State Elections Commission already has validated some 80,000 signatures of the 104,000 the PIP delivered. Nevertheless, of the 104,000 endorsements, 2 percent were rejected by the election organization for various reasons.

"In these last days, we must finish," Dalmau said.

The PIP must complete the validation of its endorsements before Dec. 31. If they don’t, they will lost their certification due to getting less than 3 percent of the votes in the governor’s race Nov. 2.

Acevedo Vila Wants To Nominate Cabinet Next Week

December 21, 2004
Copyright © 2004 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — The Popular Democratic candidate for governor, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, expects to begin announcing his Cabinet nominees next week if he is confirmed as winner of the disputed contest by the State Elections Commission (SEC).

Acevedo Vila said as soon as the recount of votes from Nov. 2 is complete, and he is certified as the official winner, he will begin to announce the candidates for his Cabinet.

"As soon as I have official certification, I want to be able to begin to make these nominations," Acevedo Vila said in a newspaper interview.

The SEC hopes to end the recount Wednesday or Thursday.

The PDP candidate said his goal is to have the nominations prepared by the start of the new legislative session on Jan. 10, which will have an NPP majority.

NPP Legislature Gearing Up For Cabinet Approvals

December 21, 2004
Copyright © 2004 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — The incoming Legislature with a New Progressive majority will only approve nominees to Acevedo Vila’s Cabinet that will commit to the program of the NPP.

This was announced by incoming Senate President, Kenneth McClintock, and his future counterpart in the House, Jose Aponte, who insisted that the government platform that "won the elections" was the NPP’s, who obtained the majority in the House and Senate, mayors and the resident commissioner seat.

"The Executive branch carries out the political will of the Legislative branch," McClintock said.

According to a newspaper study, more than 50 percent of the NPP platform and the PDP platform have almost identical proposals.

Unions, Government Meet To Discuss Strike Options

December 21, 2004
Copyright © 2004 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — Labor and government groups met Tuesday at the Labor Department to look for alternatives to the strike impasse between the Independent Authentic Union (IAU) and the Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (ASA).

Union leaders warned that although they are looking for a solution to the conflict, they are ready to take measures to pressure the government not to replace the 4,300 workers affiliated with the IAU that remain on strike after Dec. 27, the date an ultimatum by the ASA expires.

"To me there is the most minimal doubt that the government will have to make efforts to avoid several concerted actions," said Ricardo Santos, president of the Union of Industrial and Irrigation Workers.

Monday, unions suggested the possibility of a general strike in solidarity with the IAU, and Gov. Sila M. Calderon immediately said this action would have "very serious effects for Puerto Rico."

In addition to Santos, union leaders present at the meeting were Germán Vázquez, secretary of the "Unión de Tronquistas"; Federico Torres Montalvo, president of the "Central Puertorriqueña de Trabajadores"; and José Rodríguez Báez, president of the " Federación de Trabajadores," the island chapter of the AFL-CIO.

On the government side were Labor Secretary Roman Velasco; the former head of the department during this term, Victor Rivera; and Celina Roman, labor issue adviser for La Fortaleza.

Agency Asks For Input On Coral Reef Protection

December 21, 2004
Copyright © 2004 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — The Department of Natural and Environmental Resources will soon adopt new regulations to protect the island’s coral reefs and establish strategies to better manage them.

Agency Secretary Luis E. Rodriguez on Tuesday asked all interested people to submit their recommendations about the content of the bill.

"The opinions of people interested in the new regulations are welcome, and they will be taken into account for the final version of the document," Rodriguez said in a statement.

The rules will stipulate what actions constitute inappropriate use of the reefs.

The statute will replace the Regulations for Controlling the Extraction, Possession, Transportation and Sale of Coral Resources in Puerto Rico, drawn up in 1979.

The commentary period will extend for 30 days after the request for input was issued, which was initially released on Dec. 17.

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