Marise C. James was born to a single mother, Constance Espinosa, an executive secretary and seamstress, and into humble beginnings in the D. Hamilton Jackson Terrace housing project in Christiansted, St. Croix. They lived with her maternal grandparents – Pedro Espinosa and Margrethe Pedersen Espinosa. Her grandfather, a Sea Captain, migrated with his parents from the island of Culebra. Her grandmother, a seamstress, was the daughter of a Dane, Peder Pedersen and a Crucian, Miriam Krieger. They were among the first families who moved to the newly built Ralph De Chabert housing project where Marise lived with her maternal grandmother until her senior year of high school when they relocated to the Sion Farm Housing Development. Marise’s father Randall “Doc” James, was a medical doctor to thousands of Crucians, a Virgin Islands senator, radio and television talk show host, organist, songwriter, horseman, and computer programmer.
A Roman Catholic, Marise attended St. Mary’s Catholic School in Christiansted and St. Joseph High School in Frederiksted. After graduating from St. Joseph High School, Marise attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C. where she received a Bachelor of Arts in zoology. She was a beneficiary of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 receiving an athletic scholarship to play Division I basketball. As a power forward, Marise set a record for rebounds that was broken by a player from the Bahamas not until 37 years later! After college, Marise returned to St. Croix and worked first as a physical science teacher at the Elena Christian Junior High School and the following year at the St. Croix Central High School.
Marise represented the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Miss Universe pageant held in New York City in 1981. Her oratorical skills and the substance of her answers during the Miss Virgin Islands pageant captured the attention of Leona Bryan, Director for the Division of Tourism, Department of Commerce who hired Marise as the first Tourism Careers Coordinator. In that position, she educated V.I. students on the importance of tourism to our economy and the careers in the tourism industry. She also worked part-time teaching in the Adult Education Program at the St. Croix Central High School preparing adults to take the General Equivalency Diploma (GED) examination. At the prompting of her mother, Marise attended law school and graduated from the University of Maryland Francis King Carey Law School in Baltimore, MD and throughout her 36 years of practicing law she has followed the philosophy as expressed in the following quote by Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Attorney James has practiced law in the private, public (civilian and military), and non- profit sectors. Marise joined the firm of Winston A. Hodge, which later became Hodge & Sheen, P.C. and served as an associate until January 1989 when she left to work as the Associate Director for Political Status Public Education Program for the University of the Virgin Islands. The Program was cut short when Hurricane Hugo ravaged St. Croix in September 1989. Marise worked as the Disaster Branch Manager/Supervisory Attorney for the Small Business Administration Disaster Loan Program. The program provided loans to homeowners and business owners to repair and recover from damages suffered in the hurricane. Marise also practiced law with the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, the Office of Senator Gerard Luz A. James II before returning to work with the Law Offices of Winston A. Hodge. In 1995 she opened her own legal practice with her work primarily in the areas of real estate transactions and development, corporate, and probate matters. She also opened The Paralegal Institute in 1996 whose graduates now work locally and nationally. Marise worked as the St. Croix legal counsel in the Office of Governor Roy L. Schneider. From 1999 until 2004, she returned to the practice of law as a sole practitioner. Marise closed her practice and the school when she decided to join the Virgin Islands National Guard. Marise worked on Full-time National Guard Duty in the Active Guard Reserve Program as the Staff Judge Advocate for the Virgin Islands National Guard from 2004 until 2018, and during that time served a one-year tour of federal active-duty as part of the Joint Task Force, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
In addition to her civilian education, Marise graduated from the Basic and Advanced Courses conducted at the Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School which educates military, civilian, and international personnel in legal and leadership skills. She graduated from the United States Army Command and General Staff College, a graduate school for United States Army and sister service officers, interagency representatives, and international military officers. The curriculum of the graduate-level program includes instruction on leadership philosophy, military history, and the military planning and decision-making processes.
After finishing military service, Marise accepted a position as Policy Advisor for Justice and Public Safety with the Office of Governor Albert Bryan in 2019. In 2020, she returned to private practice and represents clients in real estate and business transactions. She is also a mediator, teacher, and public speaker.
From an early age, Marise has been active in the St. Croix community. As a Girl Scout, she learned about making a difference and taking a lead to make a better community. As a member of the Youth Commission, she learned that she had a voice for speaking out about community issues that affected the lives of the people. In 1981, Marise joined a small group of women meeting regularly at the Christiansted public library to discuss issues facing women in the Virgin Islands. These meetings led to the formation of the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix. She trained and served as a Victim Advocate. In addition to participating as a board member of community organizations that address social, cultural, and educational needs of the community, such as the St. Joseph Alumni Association, Boy Scouts of America, St. Croix Landmark Society, Women’s Coalition, St. Croix Foundation for Community Development, on her own initiative she volunteered at Juanita Gardine Elementary School teaching reading to first-graders and with her colleague and friend Attorney Lisa Moorehead taught Street Law and coached the Moot Court Team at St. Croix Central High School.
Marise co-hosted on Abdul Ali’s Saturday radio talk show on WSTX 970 a.m. In 1996, she won the position of Democratic National Committee Woman for the V.I. On WTJX Channel 12, Marise hosted “TOPICS” television show and served as a parade commentator for the St. Croix Festival Parade for several years.
Marise is married to Anthony Paul from the dual-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. Together they have three adult children Camille, Sydney, and Jordan. Her husband has two older sons. In raising her children who she homeschooled for several years, Marise was guided by Jackie Kennedy’s words: “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.”