Puerto Rico’s new governor is challenged in court: newspaper

FILE PHOTO: Pedro Pierluisi holds a news conference after swearing in as Governor of Puerto Rico in San Juan, Puerto Rico August 2, 2019. REUTERS/Gabriella N. Baez/File Photo

(Reuters) – The legitimacy of Puerto Rico’s newly-installed governor has been challenged in court, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday, adding further drama to who will lead the U.S. territory after weeks of protests.

Pedro Pierluisi, the handpicked successor to disgraced former governor Ricardo Rossello, was sworn in on Friday.

Pierluisi, 60, said his term might be short as the island’s Senate still had to ratify his position.

That vote was expected to happen on Wednesday.

But late on Sunday, Puerto Rico Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz sued Pierluisi in a San Juan court, claiming he usurped the office by ignoring a constitutional requirement for the Senate to vote to confirm him, the Journal reported.

Pierluisi, a lawyer who formerly advised the despised, federally-created board supervising Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy, was sworn in even though his appointment had not yet gone before the Senate for a vote.

The lawsuit asks the court to strip him of the title and stop him performing any acts as governor, the Journal reported.

Reuters could not confirm the lawsuit, nor reach Pierluisi or Schatz for comment early on Monday.

At his first news conference as governor last week, Pierluisi acknowledged that Puerto Rico’s Senate was still to meet to vote on whether to confirm his position.

Schatz has previously said that installing Pierluisi before the vote was “unethical and illegal.”

But Pierluisi had countered: “The Senate will have its say and by the end of Wednesday we’ll know whether I am ratified.”.

If he is not ratified then the second in line, the secretary of justice of Puerto Rico, will take over the governorship, he said.

Rossello, a 40-year-old, first-term governor, had tapped Pierluisi as secretary of state, a position putting him first in line as successor.

The island’s leading newspaper El Nuevo Dia subsequently reported that Schatz had rescheduled the session to vote on the appointment for Monday.

Pierluisi’s statement capped a week of political chaos in Puerto Rico after Rossello said he would resign over offensive chat messages that drew around a third of the island’s 3.2 million people to the streets in protest.

The chats between Rossello and top aides took aim at female politicians and gay celebrities like Ricky Martin, and poked fun at ordinary Puerto Ricans.

The publication of the messages unleashed anger building for years in Puerto Rico over the island’s painful bankruptcy process, ineffective hurricane recovery efforts and corruption scandals linked to a string of past governors, including Rossello’s father.

Until an appointment was confirmed by both chambers, Schatz and other senators said the next in line for governor, under law, was Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez.

(Reporting by Rich McKay; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

Puerto Rico Senate leader rejects lawyer Pierluisi as next governor

FILE PHOTO: Rep. Pedro R. Pierluisi (D-PR), addresses delegates during the second session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, September 5, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Reed

SAN JUAN (Reuters) -Puerto Rico’s Senate leader on Thursday said the lawyer tapped by the island’s disgraced governor to succeed him did not have the support of his majority party, making it likely his nomination would be rejected by the territory’s legislature.

Puerto Rico Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz said Pedr o Pierluisi’s role as an attorney advising the widely-disliked financial oversight board directing Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy presented conflicts of interests and made him unacceptable.

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló is set to step down at 5 p.m. ET on Friday over offensive chat messages and an administration corruption scandal that sparked nearly two weeks of mass protests demanding he resign.

Rosselló tapped Pierluisi as secretary of state, the position next in line to succeed him. If the legislature rejects Pierluisi’s nomination then Rosselló could pick another candidate.

Failing that, Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez is next in line to succeed Rosselló. She has said she does not want the job.

“Pedro Pierluisi does not have the vote of the majority,” Schatz said in a fiery speech. “The lawyer for Puerto Rico’s number one enemy can’t be in charge of Puerto Rico.”

Hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans took to the streets in recent weeks to demand Rosselló quit after the leaked messages unleashed rage over suspected administration corruption, slow recovery from 2017’s deadly hurricanes and the U.S. territory’s bankruptcy.

Street protesters have also accused Pierluisi of serving the interests of the federally-created oversight board, not the Puerto Rican people’s.

Pierluisi waited in Puerto Rico’s Senate on Thursday to address legislators. He previously released a statement saying he had “listened to the people’s messages, their demonstrations,” and he would “only answer to the people.”

The speaker of Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives, Carlos Méndez has said he favors Schatz as secretary of state over Pierluisi, citing the lawyer’s role advising the board and other clients at Washington law firm O’Neill & Borges.


(Reporting By Luis Valentin in San Juan; Writing by Andrew Hay; Editing by Scott Malone and Grant McCool)

Governor resignation sparks power struggle in Puerto Rico

FILE PHOTO: Puerto Rico's Secretary of Justice Wanda Vazquez stands next to Governor Ricardo Rossello during a news conference in an undated still image from file video in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Courtesy WIPR NOTISEIS via REUTERS.

By Nick Brown

SAN JUAN (Reuters) – The resignation of Puerto Rico’s governor after mass protests has sparked a succession battle, and the winner could be a Washington corporate lawyer not directly linked to his administration, which has been dogged by corruption scandals.

Governor Ricardo Rossello said on Wednesday he would step down on Aug. 2 in the face of public anger over the release of profane chat messages and embezzlement charges against two former administration officials.

In line with the U.S. territory’s constitution, Secretary of Justice Wanda Vazquez is next in line to succeed Rossello, based on current Cabinet vacancies.

Protesters who forced Rosselló from office have vowed to oppose Vazquez, saying she is too close to the disgraced governor.

That has prompted leaders of Rossello’s pro-statehood party to look to a former Puerto Rico representative in the U.S. Congress as a possible successor, according to four sources familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named so they could discuss it.

Pedro Pierluisi, who represented the island in Washington from 2009 to 2017, has made it clear to party leaders he would accept the job, according to one of these people.

Pierluisi, currently an attorney with Washington law firm O’Neill & Borges, ran against Rossello in the gubernatorial election in 2016, losing in a primary.

A member of Rossello’s New Progressive Party (PNP), Pierluisi could become the commonwealth’s next governor if he is nominated and confirmed as secretary of state before Rossello resigns. That post, currently vacant, is first in line to succeed the governor.

Also vying for the position is Puerto Rico Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz of the PNP, these people said.

EYES ON 2020

Foremost in the minds of party leaders is whether Rossello’s successor can help them retain the governorship when it comes up for grabs in November 2020.

Pierluisi, a former Puerto Rico secretary of justice, is favored by some Puerto Rico advocates in Washington for his familiarity with federal politics, according to one of the sources. Another of the sources said Pierluisi has stressed to party leaders that he would not seek re-election in 2020, to keep the door open for Schatz, Puerto Rico’s current delegate to the U.S. Congress Jenniffer Gonzalez, or another candidate.

Schatz is seen by some in the party as too closely linked to Rossello to be a viable successor or 2020 candidate, the people said.

Puerto Ricans want a leader to steer them out of crisis and economic recession after Rossello’s term was marked by back-to-back 2017 hurricanes that killed around 3,000 people just months after the U.S. territory filed for bankruptcy.

Pierluisi had a track record of gaining increased federal funding for Puerto Rico’s 3.2 million people while serving in Congress.

He also faced accusations in a 2016 New York Times report of possible conflicts of interest between legislation he introduced and financial consulting work by his wife, allegations they both denied.

Pierluisi has been named by local media as a possible successor to Rossello since his former secretary of state stepped down in the wake of the online chat scandal.

In the chats, published on July 13, Rossello and 11 top aides made offensive statements about female political opponents, gay pop singer Ricky Martin and ordinary Puerto Ricans.

(Reporting by Nick Brown in San Juan; additional reporting and writing by Andrew Hay; editing by Jonathan Oatis)