May 25, 2009

How many "special legal counsels" does Governor Fitial have? There's Howard Willens, sometimes he calls Deanne Siemer a "special counsel", and now his other "special counsel" just quit. Joel Bergsma was the governor's California-based "special counsel" who served the governor since 2006.

From the Saipan Tribune:
Bergsma, who was paid between $50,000 and $70,000 per year, also served as chief legal counsel to the 4th House of Representatives, of which Fitial was a member.

When asked for comment, press secretary Charles P. Reyes Jr. yesterday said, “Bergsma is taking some time off to focus on his practice” in San Diego, California.

“He has ties to the CNMI and wanted to help. The governor respects Bergsma's decision,” Reyes said.

Bergsma was instrumental in helping the Fitial administration deal with NMI Retirement Fund issues, including the Defined Contribution Plan and the Defined Benefit Plan Reform Act, as well as issues relating to the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. such as the CUC-Commonwealth Development Authority equity conversion agreement recently, Reyes said.
Attorneys in the CNMI, in Washington, D.C., and in California. Does it seem the the governor of a territory with a population smaller than most mid-sized U.S. cities has lots of attorneys?

The articles suggested that the governor may replace Bergsma with former Tan employee and former CNMI Attorney General, Matt Gregory:
Bergsma's resignation also comes at a time when the governor has difficulty naming a new attorney general, after the two individuals he had approached turned down his offer.

Reyes said it is possible that the governor may hire an attorney on a contractual basis to fill the void left by Bergsma.

One of the names being considered is former Attorney General Matthew Gregory who resigned in September 2008, but no decision or contract has been signed yet.

“Mr. Gregory, a former AG familiar with critical policy issues, and highly qualified, may be selected to fill that void at no additional cost or even at reduced cost compared to Bergsma's contract,” Reyes added
Maybe Rep. Tina Sablan's Open Government Request will get some response and shed some light on at least some of the questions regarding attorneys fees paid by the Fitial Administration.

TTT president, Greg Cruz has been very busy sending letters to Washington, D.C., to CNMI legislators, Governor Fitial, and oh so many unsolicited letters to me.  Usually,  the letters are full of misinformation and explain his misinterpretation of the intent of PL 110-229.  He often tells members of Congress just what the law means. I assume because he feels that he knows more about the law than the people who actually wrote and passed it.  In almost every letter Cruz refers to me as a"fake advocate" and he complains about leaders of the various workers' groups and others who support the guest workers' rights - Rep. Tina Sablan, Ed Probst, Ron Hodges, etc.

As a commenter on a previous post pointed out, Cruz always presents the Taotao Tano as "we". The question is who is the "we" in Taotao Tano? Who are the members? Are there actually members?

Cruz is now expanding his list of letter recipients to include Philippine Consul General Wilfredo DL Maximo.  In his recent letter he complained of the "“continued demands for improved immigration status here in our homeland by foreign non-resident guest worker organizations such as DEKADA, United Workers Movement or Coalition and all other foreign organizations involved," according to the Saipan Tribune.  Just who are these "foreign organizations" that he writes about in his letters?  Does he mean CNMI-based organizations with foreign members?

From the Saipan Tribune:
Cruz said the demands is “a sign of pure self-interest agendas and complete disrespect to the people of the Commonwealth.”

Maximo, however, didn't agree with Cruz's observation.

“I would characterize the guest worker groups more as appealing for sympathy and understanding in their quest for a betterment of their plight, something I'm sure you will not begrudge as a fellow Christian,” Maximo said in his response letter to Cruz.

Maximo said that peaceful and orderly exercise “is a privilege that you and I enjoy in this showcase of American democracy in the Western Pacific.”
There is absolutely no disrespect meant to anyone in appealing to the U.S. government for U.S. citizenship.  The people of the commonwealth invited the foreign contract workers to the CNMI.  They did not just show up on the shores of the CNMI like the boats of Haitian immigrants often do in my home state.  Their contracts were continually renewed.  They consider the CNMI their home, and they have been contributing community members for decades.  Is Cruz saying that the people of the CNMI no longer need their services? Or is he saying that they are welcome only as a disenfranchised underclass?  

Cruz also took offense with a group's appeal to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Even though I am not sure what those who appealed to her think that the President of the Philippines can do to help them obtain U.S citizenship (or why she would want to), one never knows.  What harm is there is trying?  The Consul is correct, that the Filipino guest workers are free to appeal to anyone!  From the Saipan Tribune:
The Taotao Tano leader also hit the worker group's call to seek the assistance of Philippine President Macapagal Arroyo to intervene and appeal to the U.S. government on behalf of the foreign guest worker organizations in the granting of more permanent immigration status.

Maximo said the plea to the Philippine president is well within the rights of the demonstrators.

“While we at the Philippine Consulate do not encourage people to engage in demonstrations of this sort for whatever reason, it would be presumptuous on our part to prevent them from exercising their basic rights to form associations and to peaceably assemble-rights guaranteed also under the Philippine Constitution, which was heavily patterned after the U.S. own Bill of Rights,” noted Maximo in his letter to Cruz.

“I would say therefore, let these poor folks pursue, no matter how faint or hopeful, their quest for improved immigration status,” Maximo told Cruz.
Good for Consul General Maximo for his views! The CNMI is U.S. territory, and the long-term workers have every right to appeal for such status. This is especially true since the current Fitial Administration has complained that they "will lose their workforce when all of the guest workers are forced to depart due to federalization."  Giving the long-term workers green cards will almost surely ensure a stable workforce, but this governor has stated that he does not support status.


Saipan Writer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I said this before and will repeat it again. It seems that it is not going through their tiny brains (Greg TTT & Ben d Guvnah) the improved status is not only for Guest workers but very important also for some locals indigenous like Greg & the Guvnah. A lot of female guest workers here legitimately married to locals with indigenous kids, these locals are no way can petitions their spouses because it’s either they are un-employed or could not meet USCIS income requirements. Now Arrogant GREG & GUVNAH these so called indigenous kids are so worried comes November 28 their mother will be sent HOME even the kids are currently employed there is no way that they can petition their Moms due to the Minimum wage in the CNMI. I encouraged these people to go out stop hiding in the dark and join the Guest workers and ask their Government to support the improved status you people will make a big difference coz you are Voters.

Anonymous said...

This 9:24 post has a very good point about the spouse of "IR family. I have many friends in that predicament.
Low paying job, or NO job, only the wife (husband) is working and the minimum wage will not cut it to qualify even if the rest of the money was available for the fees.

Although I have no influence or inside information with the US immigration and Homeland Security, I truly believe that something will be done in this situation in the NMI, as we here are in a different situation than the US Mainland.
The solution may not come until during the "transition period" after the Feds takeover as at that time with more of their people "on the ground" it may give a better insight on the problems that are being encountered.
It would be better of course to have something done sooner so everybody can get on with their lives and not live in fear of losing one of the spouse and parent back to their homeland.

To meet the minimum income requirements, a spouse has to earn a little less than $10.00 per hour.(This is not considering the taxes on the wages)
Even many Govt. workers could not qualify to make the "poverty level" in the US.

One thing that was done awhile back in one of my friends case (i do not know the details)a mutual friend that had property co-sponsored our friends wife for the "Green Card" because the husband was on Social Security and could not qualify. This may be a short term solution for some that have a large extended family with land etc.

Anonymous said...

This Gov is unbelievable, I wonder how many more "special advisers" he has around along with how many more "volunteers".
I am wondering how all of these people (non-residents??) are able to help him in any legitimate way living outside of the NMI.
And also why he is using people from outside.
maybe it is to hide the fact of where and how much money is going.
This may be one of many "secrets" that he does not want known that Tina's suit may well expose.

Hopefully the reason this lawyer is "bailing" out is because of something else that may be coming down.
I do not see how much this Attorney could be doing for the Gov. there in the mainland that is keeping him away from his law practice there.
But this should be looked into, is this lawyer involving matters of the NMI or the Gov. Could there be misuse of Govt funds here? Any Fed funds involved?

On TTT,Greg's' many different radical opinions from either side of the fence are truly amazing.
He should stick to one "ghost" writer instead of many that don't have the same insight or knowledge.

The letters to the Philippine Counsel and the Congress are only discrediting him further and does not do his cause any good.
Whatever his opinion he should just stick to trying to expose any wrong doing in the govt. etc.and don't make any other statements or opinions.the old saying "Better to keep your mouth shut and thought a fool, than to open it and confirm a fool" (something like that)

I have not been a fan of TTT from the beginning, but some things Greg "opened" up was revealing,it did get some "nervous" reaction from some people involved, so stick to being informative, and check the facts before they are "exposed"
As far as that "Wolverine" well that is another story for later.

Melberlin said...

The only person who calls himself representative (or WE) is the person that was voted by the majority and officially is Kilili. Since the early TTT days, Tina, Ambrose, and all persons marked with sound judgment eventually abandoned Goro. And then who else left, you can count them in your fingers of your ONE hand. He got only 150? votes or one of the less favor during the election and still he is acting as representing everybody by using "WE". This is a no-brainer and easy to understand why they don't vote him (at his district), because they don't like him, simple..... He cannot get any more new recruits/followers as long as his crusades will provide the generative force in advancing a principle that is favorable to who he is representing for. Does he still don't realized that all his crusades does not producing any effect or results...only negative results.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. I recall that Tina's initial OGA request included documents regarding ANY lawyers that affiliated with the 903 litigations. I wonder if this, now known, attorney provided any insight into the 903 litigations (i would venture to guess so). If that is the case why weren't those documents referenced in the privilege log and why weren't any documents concerning this "special legal counsel" given to Tina upon the judges order to disclose all that info (i.e. Howard's contract)?

Hmm. Care to chime in Actor, GB, etal ?

It would seem rather odd that a mainland based legal counsel for the governor had nothing to say or do with this 903 litigation. But I am sure that is what you will attempt to spin out of it.

All in time.

Damn--- how many AAGs could you hire with all the money Gov. Fitial has been paying to special legal counsels and private law firms.

Lets see: at least $500,000 to jenner and block, $46,000 to Howard, $70,000 to this new dude in cali, and toss in $100,000 for unknown legal counsels that will be revealed in future trials against Fitial.

Man Gregory that is like 10 AAGs at around 70K a year... That would have solved your "Ohhh! I am so over worked and understaffed" issue you have been blowing out for the past 10 months.

Saipan Writer said...

Joel Bergsma is only unknown to some of you.

He was here in the 1980's and is very well respected. He's a Harvard law grad and worked here in the CNMI for many years.

His position as a special legal counsel has been mentioned many times in the newspapers during this administration. It's not been a secret to any except those not reading the newspapers. It's even been mentioned on the Governor's web page.

And as noted, it seems his only work related to tax and retirement issues. I doubt seriously if he's supportive of the administration's opposition to US control of immigration.

Although his views on the subject are not a matter of public record, his wife's are. His wife (Marybeth Herald) used to work at MLSC and wrote a very compelling article published in a law journal that is cited frequently, on the subject of alien worker abuse here, arguing even then (about 1992) for US takeover of immigration, as I recall.

The only real negative I know about Joel is his willingness to be hired by the Fitial administration. And lawyers are in the business of giving advice to paying customers, whether those customers heed ethical and honest legal advice or not.


cactus said...

It is one of the strange features of the CNMI that history seems to move faster here, and the past is somehow further away and less accessible than elsewhere. The 1980's seem like a dim memory, the 1950's are ancient history, and nobody even thinks about the 1930's. It may be partly that the rapid change of political regimes makes a former era seem obsolete as soon as it is over. It may partly be a function of so many people coming, staying for a short time, and going, to be replaced by more newcomers. For whatever reason, there is a real lack of institutional memory -- at least among the non-local communities here (and that is an important qualification) -- with the result that when a name out of the past, like Joel Bergsma, Ben Santos, Oscar Rasa, etc., comes back into the spotlight after a long (or even not so long) absence, a dismayingly large number of people don't have the faintest idea who that person is, and are prone to jump to anachronistic conclusions that are often entirely mistaken.

So thank you, Writer, for helping to provide some institutional memory in this instance.

Wendy said...

I remember both the names of Joel Bergsma and Marybeth Hearld from the 1980's. Stashed away somewhere among my many CNMI files, I have a copy of the paper that Attorney Herald wrote on CNMI immigration. As Jane stated it is often referenced in other papers, journals and even court documents.

I was not questioning Mr. Bergsma's credentials.

It just seems odd that Governor Fitial claims that there is no money in the CNMI coffers, yet he finds a large amount of money to hire a diverse team of attorneys in the CNMI and on both coasts of the mainland. Couldn't he find one attorney that could do it all?

Anonymous said...

This gov has to be thrown out of office along with his string of attorneys.

Anonymous said...

Not only his especial legal advisers and also how many financers.

Anonymous said...

The governor has far fewer lawyers than almost any other governor, county executive, or even mayor of a similar-sized city.

Anonymous said...

As for litigating the CNMI's Covenant Section 903 Lawsuit, the OAG has no lawyers who have clerked for the U.S. Supreme Court. Our Jenner & Block team has two.

All lawyers are not fungible. Experience and skill matter.

Nothing odd about that.

That is why the CNMI needed contract workers, and why retaining all the current guest workers will not solve the CNMI's problems. Guest workers are no more fungible than lawyers.

Anonymous said...

The governor has less lawyers today because most have quit and walked away in disqust.

Anonymous said...

The governor has far more lawyers and consultants than most municipalities of that size with similar resources!

Anonymous said...

Talk is Matt Gregory(Mr. Private Sector) will replace Bergsma....Oh yeah!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Wondered why Matt was hanging out with Ben, Willie, and Ray at Wild Bill's.

Anonymous said...

The governor has far more lawyers and consultants than most municipalities of that size with similar resources!Adding an exclamation mark does not make that statement more truthful.

According to Wendy, there were three lawyers: Willens, Siemer, and Bergsma.

Siemer, however, has no formal documented affiliation with the government, and seems to be working mostly at Labor anyway, not the Office of the Governor.

According to the press (I know, I know) Bergsma worked only on a few special projects such as Retirement and CUC, which makes sense given the nature of his ongoing practice in San Diego. He has worked on less than a 1/4-time basis, and been paid an hourly rate accordingly.

So assuming we call Willens full-time, the Governor has 1-1/4 attorneys working for him. 2-1/4 if we count the Lt. Governor's counsel.

What about Jenner & Block? They are outside litigation counsel, hired for only one particular case. Even adding them to the number at the OAG, the CNMI government is severely under-lawyered compared to any urban county of similar population. Particularly lawyers with relevant experience.

That, indeed, is at the root of so many of the CNMI's problems.

As for consultants, I've not seen any list, but that is beyond the scope of the “excess counsel” issue.

Anonymous said...

The Gov has the Attorney Generals office as the AG is appointed and not elected and only a "yes" man for the Gov.
Thi is also confirmed by a particular "Ex Asst. AG" that is now working in Guam.

Anonymous said...

There are at least ten CNMI OAG alumni from recent years on Guam (Tydingco, Moots, Aguon, J. Warfield, R. Warfield, M. Nisperos, Lemons, Covington, Weinberg, E. Nisperos), but few or none of them were in a position by propinquity or temporally to have a basis for personal knowledge.

Anonymous said...

If you are going to count the OAG as counsel to the Governor, then when comparing similarly situated locales you would need to include the offices of the City Attorney, County Counsel, and District Attorney.

By any objective measure, no one can say that the CNMI Governor has too many lawyers. Indeed, the government's problem is that it doesn't have enough, and can't afford those it has.

Anonymous said...

Why does Bergsma need to be replaced if there is no money? Maybe his work is finished?

Anonymous said...

NMIRF restructuring. CUC privatization.