Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom

W hile natives are not supposed to speak ill of their home town, I find myself in a geographical limbo. I’m a Bonnacian and a practicing Roatan attorney that finds some perturbing elements about living and working here in the legal profession.

I’ve been living on Roatan for 12 years and coming to work here for the past 22 years. I can remember the unpaved roads in Coxen Hole, and an efficient court system on the island. You could have a petition resolved in three days and one judge took care of it all. Seriously, one judge with a lot of experience and knowledge could do all that. Now we have justices who have nicknames based on the amount of bribe money it requires to get their attention. You know who you are Mr. “20 mil.”

I recall sitting at the breakfast bar at H.B. Warrens in Coxen Hole waiting for the courthouse in the tiny offices next to the Coxen Hole’s “Central Park” to open at 7:30 am. One secretary and one judge had their breakfast there before going to work and neither of them tried to sell you any Avon products, a brick for their church fundraiser, a shirt or ask for money for coffee or Bojangles. In those old days of litigation on Roatan, justice mostly prevailed and the judges based their decisions on actual legal precedents. You understood the reasoning and, dare I say, the logic behind his rulings. It wasn’t perfect, but I’ll take it over the five judges, dozens of clerks, and two secretaries we now have. We are bogged down in bureaucratic red tape and nothing really gets resolved. I, for one, have been frustrated beyond belief.

When I first visited Roatan the judge was the only notary because there was no permanent notary living on the island. Then Mr. Lorenzo became a notary and title transfers took two days to complete. I know of a title transfer taking two years for cadastral certification which was then not registered. As a sign of progress Roatan now has a chapter of the Honduran Bar Association with 85 attorneys and roughly 8 notaries – professionals entitled to do closings and notarize documents. I would be interested in knowing how many cases are presented annually and how many are actually resolved. My non grata persona won’t be allowed to go over and ask. I have requested data from the Supreme Court regarding the Bay Islands courthouse track record, but I’m not holding my breath I’ll actually get it.

We are bogged down in bureaucratic red tape and nothing really gets resolved

Is it really progress when we take longer to get something as simple as a transfer done and tax it to death? All the land in the Bay Islands has already been measured and is in a computer system at the municipal cadastral offices. The name change on a parcel should be straightforward, quick and inexpensive. In practice the title transfers now takes three to six months if you’re lucky. It requires payment of three separate taxes (state and federal transfer tax, and a capital gains tax) plus an additional registry fees: buyers, sellers, attorneys and brokers pay. The amount of red tape and hoops is increasing by the week.

Here’s how I think things could be improved. Arbitration process should be allowed as it is on the mainland with Chamber of Commerce involved in conciliation. Honduran law should also separate the criminal court from the civil, family and labor courts. A courthouse would then house four judges: one or two for criminal cases, one for civil cases, one for labor issues, one for family law. I am just tired of finding excuses to give clients as to why the legal system is broken.