The Attorney General of the U. S. Virgin Islands is appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the Legislature of the Virgin Islands. The role of the Attorney General and her staff is to act as the advocate for every resident of the Territory, asserting the rights of the residents under the laws of the Territory and the United States, and protecting them from those who would violate those rights.
On January 5, 2015, Soraya Diase Coffelt, J.D., M.J.S., was appointed Acting Attorney General in the new Kenneth E. Mapp, Governor, and Osbert A. Potter, Lt. Governor, administration. Born on St. Thomas, she came from humble beginnings. For both of her parents, English was a second language and they viewed it as the language of opportunity. They valued education and worked hard to support their five daughters. Embracing these values, she became a dedicated and disciplined student, eventually graduating from high school as valedictorian of her class. Through scholarships and the work-study program, she attended the University of Texas at Austin, graduating with honors with a B.A. in political science in 1978.
She received a scholarship and student loans to attend Cornell University’s School of Law. After graduating in 1981, Soraya returned home and chose to give back to her community by serving as a law clerk at the Territorial Court (now Superior Court) of the Virgin Islands.
In 1985, she established her private law office. Along with her late husband Gordon Coffelt, she also developed a variety of commercial businesses and properties, including One Stop, the island’s first gas stations and convenience stores. They employed more than 100 people over many years and stimulated the local economy.
In 1993, Attorney Diase Coffelt was appointed and confirmed as a judge of the Territorial Court (now Superior Court), where she served honorably for 6 ˝ years. During that time, she served as a trial judge, hearing all types of cases from traffic violations to first degree murder trials; from small claims cases to multi-million dollar civil jury cases; and from divorces to juvenile delinquent and probate cases. On occasions, due to the unique jurisdiction of the courts, she also served as an appellate judge on the Appellate Division of the District Court of the V.I., hearing and deciding appeals from the Territorial Court.
Annual Moot Court Competition for High School Students
In 1994, while she served as a judge, she developed and then oversaw the Virgin Islands Moot Court Competition, an annual interscholastic competition for Virgin Islands’ high school seniors that was sponsored by the Court and the V. I. Bar Association in commemoration of Law Day. She designed the competition to showcase the talents of the youth in the areas of public speaking, advocacy, and the law, with college scholarships being awarded.
The Competition has five primary goals:
• to increase the community’s awareness of current issues in the law; to promote the study of public speaking, advocacy and the law;
• to improve the community’s awareness of the role of a lawyer and a judge;
• to improve the public’s opinions of lawyers; and
• to provide financial assistance to deserving students who plan to further their education upon graduating from high school.
On May 2, 2013, the Virgin Islands Bar Association presented her with an award for her valuable contribution to the legal profession and the people of the Virgin Islands. She was the keynote speaker at the events marking the final day of the competition at the Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands on St. Thomas.
The Competition celebrated its 20th year of success in 2014.Hundreds of Virgin Islands students have participated in the Competition and gone on to college with financial support through the scholarships. Many have become lawyers.
Establishment of the Virgin Islands Supreme Court
While serving as a judge, she attended classes annually at the National Judicial College (NJC) in Reno, Nevada to improve her knowledge and skills. The NJC is one of the leading institutions for the education and training of judges and judges from all over the United States and the world attend classes there to become better judges.
At the NJC, she met many judges from different jurisdictions and courts. She learned about the struggles that many island jurisdictions had in establishing their own Supreme Courts. In fact, at the time, the Virgin Islands was the only remaining Territory under the U.S. flag that did not have its own Supreme Court. Later, after leaving the bench, she attended classes at the University of Nevada-Reno (in conjunction with the NJC), where she enrolled in and received a degree of Master of Judicial Studies with a major in Trial Judges in 2001.Her studies focused heavily on improving the Virgin Islands’ judicial system and her Master’s thesis, advocating the establishment of a Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands, was used as a guideline by Virgin Islands lawmakers who created the court in 2004.
Professional Volunteer Service
• She has served on the V.I. Committee of Bar Examiners since its inception in March, 1993. Examiners assist in developing and implementing rules for the admission of attorneys to the Virgin Islands Bar, as well as write bar exam essay questions and grade the answers.
• She served as an officer and a member of the board of governors of the V.I. Bar Association.
• She served on the board of trustees of Legal Services of the V.I., which provides legal services to the needy in the Virgin Islands, for 6 years, and also served as president of the board for 4 of those years.
Community Volunteer Service
• Active in her church and demonstrating her passion for improving the lives of children, she served as a parent volunteer in the children’s ministry and then as a volunteer lay children’s minister and leader for over 15 years.
• Committed to the improvement of literacy in children, she assisted the development of the Reach Out and Read program at the St. Thomas East End Medical Center by purchasing and donating children’s furniture and books. She also volunteered to read to children at the Center. Reach Out and Read was established in the United States in 1989 by a group of pediatricians and educators who understood the importance of infancy and toddlerhood in forming a child’s firm foundation toward achievement in school. The Program prepares our youngest children to succeed in school by partnering with pediatricians to give out books and encourage families to read together. Volunteers read to children as they and their families are waiting to see the doctor. As the child returns for medical visits, the pediatrician continues to give out books and encourage the family to read.
• She has been a guest reader in V.I. public elementary schools and Head Start Centers.
• Concerned for the destitute in her community, she has volunteered to help feed and clothe the homeless on St. Thomas and St. Croix.
•Dedicated to global volunteer service as well, she has participated in missionary trips to Honduras and the Amazon River Region of Peru.
She has two sons who were born and raised on St. Thomas: Zachary, who is a practicing attorney; and James, who is a senior in college.
| || |