By Agnes E. Donato
The Fitial administration insists it met legal requirements when it filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Commonwealth against the U.S. government to block the labor provisions of the new CNMI immigration law.
Press secretary Charles P. Reyes, in response to a legal opinion issued by the Senate's staff legal counsel Michael Ernest, said, “There is no legal issue here. We are in compliance with the legal requirements, even according to Mr. Ernest's analysis.”
Ernest maintains that the CNMI Constitution allows an outside law firm to “represent the CNMI in the litigation, but it must be with the explicit authority granted from the [attorney general] and the AG must maintain some minimal control over the litigation.”
Acting attorney general Gregory Baka holds that the CNMI Constitution authorizes the AG's office to refer cases to private law firms and that delegation is not legally required to be in writing. “Hundreds of pleadings are filed annually by the OAG without the AG's personal review or signature. Yet as the deputy attorney general, I did personally review and comment upon various drafts of the complaint in our Section 903 litigation,” Baka has said in a letter previously sent to Rep. Tina Sablan.
Section 903 of the U.S.-CNMI Covenant allows either party to bring to court any dispute arising under the Covenant.
“Regarding the story on the federal lawsuit,” Reyes wrote in an email yesterday, “again, the AG did approve the filing of the lawsuit, and written authorization is not required. Secondly, Howard Willens has served as an Assistant Attorney General, as well as Special Counsel to the Governor, since January 2006, and he has represented the Commonwealth in that capacity in the local courts.”
The U.S.-based law firm, Jenner & Block, and attorney Howard Willens, special legal counsel to Governor Fitial, are representing the CNMI government in the lawsuit.