Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Release of federalization suit docs OK'd

Release of federalization suit docs OK'd

Thursday, November 26, 2009
House committee, Sablan press for documents
By Haidee V. Eugenio

The Fitial administration has started preparing for the release of copies of contracts, fee agreements and other records connected with the governor's federalization lawsuit.

Rep. Tina Sablan (Ind-Saipan) and House Ways and Means Committee chair Rep. Ray N. Yumul (R-Saipan) made a follow up request for the release of the documents on Wednesday.

The request came a few days after U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Paul L. Friedman dismissed on Monday two of the three counts of the lawsuit, citing the CNMI's failure to prove its case.

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial reiterated yesterday that he wants to read Friedman's opinion first before deciding what to do next, including whether to appeal the decision.

At least 14 sets of documents are still being requested by Sablan and the Ways and Means Committee from the Office of the Attorney General, in addition to the over 30 pages that the OAG released in August.

Sablan identified these additional documents in a Nov. 19 letter to assistant attorney general Anthony Welch.

“I was told last week and again this [Wednesday] morning by Mr. Welch that these documents are now being prepared for release,” Sablan told Saipan Tribune in an interview at her office yesterday.

Welch, in a brief phone interview, confirmed that the OAG is “working on what Sablan asked for.”

He said it takes time for these documents to be sorted and prepared for release.

Sablan said the contract, engagement letter and/or fee agreement, along with change orders, between the CNMI government and its Washington, D.C.-based law firm, Jenner & Block LLC, are among the 14 specific sets of documents that she and the committee have asked from the OAG.

“There are probably a lot more than what was has been spent since the contract was signed early last year,” Sablan told Saipan Tribune.

Jenner & Block LLP billed the CNMI $395,971.81 between Aug. 26, 2008 and Feb. 27, 2009.

But Sablan said the released billing invoices of close to $400,000 covers only six months, and does not include the prior months when the contract was signed and the months after February this year.

The federal judge handling the federalization lawsuit said he will issue an opinion explaining his decision later this week.

Fitial's special legal counsel, Howard Willens, is traveling to Washington, D.C. this Sunday to consult with Jenner & Block on Monday.

This means the CNMI continues to incur billings as the law firm continues its work.

The CNMI filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government over federalization of the CNMI, asking the U.S. District Court for Washington, D.C. to prevent the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Labor from taking over the local labor system.

Federalization is set to start on Saturday, Nov. 28.

14 sets of documents

Attorney General Ed Buckingham tasked Welch to handle the release of documents to Sablan and the House committee pursuant to an Open Government Act request.

On Nov. 18, Buckingham, Deputy Attorney General Joe Taijeron, Welch, Sablan and Yumul met to discuss the documents requested by the committee. The OAG asked Sablan to identify the specific documents requested.

On Nov. 19, Sablan wrote a two-page letter addressed to Welch identifying the 14 sets of documents, including a copy of the contract, engagement letter and/or fee agreement between the CNMI government and Willens, including any change orders.

In that letter, Sablan said the OAG indicated that the earliest time the requested documents would be provided would be Nov. 25, which was yesterday. OAG needed more time to prepare and release the documents.

Sablan also asked for a copy of summaries and detailed and unredacted billing invoices from Jenner & Block, as well as from Willens, to the CNMI government, from April 1, 2008, to the present.

The lawmaker also asked for a copy of memoranda issued by Fitial to the Department of Finance authorizing any payments made to Jenner & Block and Willens, from April 1, 2008 to the present.

Also requested are copies of wire transfer authorizations from Finance with respect to payments made to Jenner & Block and Willens from April 1, 2008 to the present.

Sablan, who won an Open Government Act lawsuit against the government, also asked for a copy of complete and unredacted fund status reports of all accounts under the Office of the Governor from April 1, 2008 to the present date.

Also being requested is a copy of a full listing and description of all sources of funding for the CNMI government's contract or agreement with Jenner & Block and Willens.

Lastly, Sablan is asking for a copy of a full listing of the departments, agencies and instrumentalities of the CNMI government from which any public funds have been reprogrammed in order to finance the CNMI lawsuit against the federal government.

After the documents are received, Yumul will be calling for a meeting of the members of the House Ways and Means Committee to review the records.

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