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Baltasar Corrada del Río returns to private practice

Former P.R. Supreme Court justice discusses his prolific career in public service and reacts to island’s political situation

By Mariella Perez Serrano of Caribbean Business

August 11, 2005
Copyright © 2005 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Baltasar Corrada del Río has been in public service for over 24 years. His career has been marked by what he calls his "three main areas of concern: Christian values, political status of Puerto Rico, and law and justice."

On Aug. 1, Corrada del Río embarked on a new phase in his prolific life when he joined the litigation department and government relations practice group of McConnell Valdés, one of the island’s most prestigious law firms. For the former Puerto Rico Supreme Court justice, it was returning to the firm where he was a partner for 15 years before he departed to run for political office as resident commissioner in Washington, D.C., in 1975.

"I am very pleased to be returning to my legal home," said Corrada del Río. "I devoted many years to public service, and I am very proud of the time served. Upon retiring from the Supreme Court after nearly 10 years of service, I wanted to continue practicing law and to do so in a place that was familiar to me, like McConnell Valdés. I want to continue devoting time to law and justice."

By constitutional mandate, which imposes a 70-year age limit, Corrada del Río was forced to retire from Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court on April 10, and his seat remains vacant. In spite of his age, Corrada del Río is far from retiring, although the former Supreme Court justice says he has no intention of running for political office again. Instead, he views himself now as an elder statesman, providing counsel and advice to those in the political arena who seek it.

"With his return to McConnell Valdés, Corrada del Río not only will join our litigation department, but also will strengthen our government relations practice group. Few attorneys know our legal system and government like Corrada del Río," stated McConnell Valdés Managing Partner Arturo J. García Solá.

At McConnell, Corrada del Río will provide legal services to clients as well as consulting services to other attorneys on staff. The government relations practice group at the law firm provides a broad range of services, including legislative and administrative monitoring of bills and regulations, assisting clients in aspects of the legislative and regulatory process, as well as preparation of position papers to be submitted to legislative committees or administrative agencies. McConnell also is involved in the organization of associations and lobbying coalitions.

A career in law and justice

In a private interview with CARIBBEAN BUSINESS, Corrada del Río reflected on his eight-year tenure as resident commissioner in Washington, D.C., his years as San Juan mayor and later secretary of state, as well as his nearly 10 years on the Puerto Rico Supreme Court.

"My eight years in Washington, D.C., were very productive, and I feel very proud of my accomplishments," said Corrada del Río. "In 1978, I was instrumental in increasing the number of federal judges from three to seven, allowing for four more judges."

On whether he sees a continuation of his legacy in Washington, D.C., Corrada del Río certainly thinks so. "I am very pleased Luis Fortuño has developed an agenda in Washington that is as dynamic or even more dynamic than my own," he said. "I have known Luis since he was a kid. He was an unpaid intern in my office when I was resident commissioner, and he would come often to my office to do volunteer work."

Regarding Puerto Rico’s existing political situation, Corrada del Río believes we are witnessing a very difficult time in the relationship between the executive and legislative branches. "We are still in the first year of this administration, and we probably are going through a trial-and-error phase, with more errors than trials, unfortunately.

"It is my hope that, as time goes by, both the executive and legislative branches will understand their roles, which is to improve the economic and social conditions of the people of Puerto Rico. They must be able to agree at least on fundamental issues, such as education, health, and security so we are able to get ahead economically and socially," stated Corrada del Río.

"The judicial branch, of course, traditionally has been able to solve disputes between the executive and legislative branches, but that doesn’t mean the judicial branch will interfere in matters that are political in nature rather than truly judicial in nature. This is what happened in the case of appointed Secretary of State Marisara Pont Marchese in which the Supreme Court essentially decided not to intervene in the matter because it thought it was a matter of deference toward the Legislature," Corrada del Río added.

Vacancy on the high court

The former Supreme Court justice believes it is unfortunate a replacement for his seat on the bench has yet to be found. "The composition of the Supreme Court is seven judges, not six," he said. "In the history of the Supreme Court, there never has been an even number. You need an odd number because, if you have a divided decision, you need a deciding vote."

He maintained that although governors seek to appoint candidates for the high court who represent their social, economic, and political views, it doesn’t mean a justice will decide a case at the governor’s whim or based on the governor’s views.

"Some people believe politics permeates the judgments of Supreme Court justices; I would say partisan politics isn’t a factor in their decisions," Corrada del Río argued.

"Justices don’t decide on the basis of partisan politics, but that doesn’t mean each justice may not have a certain vision about policy regarding the economic, political, and social development of Puerto Rico."

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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