OGA Requests Reveal Waste

(January 21, 2011

Former Rep. Tina Sablan has it right in saying that in-house counsels should be handling more of the CNMI legal cases.

So far the limited and heavily redacted responses to her 18 OGA requests, reveal that hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent by CNMI departments and agencies to retain outside counsels.  Attorneys, many former employees of the OAG, charged up to $200 an hour for their services.

Ms. Sablan was quoted by the Saipan Tribune:
“It might make sense to contract out services in cases where there are, say, conflicts of interest, or if there is a need for highly specialized knowledge that isn't easily found within the government or within the CNMI. But other than that, there is really no need for the CNMI to be paying outside counsel to handle matters that could just as easily, and more cost-effectively, be handled by in-house counsel.”
Many attorneys who have worked for the CNMI OAG, have exited to land high paying jobs representing CNMI offices in legal matters at enormous costs to the CNMI.  Ms. Sablan said:
“Assistant attorneys general, assistant public defenders, and staff attorneys in the CNMI make anywhere from $23 an hour to $38 an hour. They work full time, they work hard, and, in the cases of the assistant AGs, often serve multiple agencies,” Sablan said.

She said these government lawyers are also often overwhelmed with work, “and for the price we have been paying outside counsel throughout the CNMI, we would be able to hire dozens of excellent in-house attorneys who can share the work and give the CNMI a better, more cost-effective product.”
The Department of Public Land hired former AAG Brad Huesman as an in-house counsel in August 2010 under a $54,000 annual contract. He resigned from the OAG in April 2010.

The cash-strapped Department of Public Health penned a contract with the law offices of former AG Matt Gregory and former AAG William Sattersberg to sue Leo Daly over the malfunctioning dialysis center.  The sole-source contract that was initiated in June 2009 not to exceed $200,000 was amended twice -In April and August 2010. The amended contract raised the amount to $250,000.

(Read about other departments' legal contracts with outside attorneys in this previous post.)

One response to the redacted OGA request documents released from the Governor's Office came from outside the Governor's Office.  Cinta Kaipat, the chief defender of the Department of Labor's "volunteer"wrote a letter to the editor defending Deanne Siemer as the savior of DOL, and justifying the funds paid to her.

The Kaipat letter attacked the Saipan Tribune for publishing a story revealing that documents obtained by Tina Sablan's OGA request showed that Siemer received 56 payments from the Governor Office. Kaipat claims the writer should know of Siemer's uncompensated status and expenditures.

What is Siemer's defender complaining about this time? In a January 17, 2011 article reporter, Haidee Eugenio accurately reported simply this:
These included disbursements to Fitial's former and current counsels Joel Bergsma, Howard Willens, Deanne Siemer, and Jenner and Block LLP, which is representing the governor in the federalization lawsuit.
Kaipat's complaint is misdirected.  She should call her uncle Ben to ask him to hand over the complete set of documents that disclose the amounts of each payment/check and the services that were provided.  Kaipat should explain why the Governor's Office and not the DOL "refunded" Siemer for her "expenses." Kaipat should also lose the "kill the messenger" mentality that is so prevalent in the CNMI.

Siemer worked under the Fitial Administration as a ghost writer, spokesperson, and puppet master for Kaipat, the DOL, and Governor Fitial.  (It wouldn't be surprising if Siemer, herself, had a hand in penning the letter to the editor.) She was also at the side of her husband, Howard Willen's each time he attacked the federal government and takeover legislation.  The dynamic duo, along with and some others who drank the Fitial Kool-Aid, assisted the governor in hiring a host of DC-connected lobbyists and attorneys where millions of dollars was spent.

The letter to the editor is filled with the typical Kaipat-Siemer spin.  The claim that a backlog of thousands of labor cases was disposed of is particularly offensive. Yes, the department administratively dealt with labor complaints, but the overwhelming result was that meaningless DOL orders were issued, or cases were prematurely closed at the expense of the complainants.  In case after sickening case, employers were found to owe their foreign contract workers back pay and other compensation. In the majority of those cases there was no enforcement of the orders and the cheating employers walked free while the victim-workers remain to this day uncompensated. Who brags about an systematic injustice like that?

While Siemer may have "volunteered" her services, two other hearing officers, Linn Asper and Herbert Soll had contracts with DOL for their legal services. I received their billing records and contracts after a October 2009 OGA request that I filled with the DOL in 2009.  Tina also received copies of their contracts and billing records as a result of her most recent OGA request according to the Saipan Tribune.  It's too bad the DOL couldn't have paid someone to followup on the orders to ensure that the employers actually paid the cheated workers.


Anonymous said...

Many people seem to have a vigilante or witch-hunt mob mentality against Howard Penney Willens (a member of the Kennedy Administration) and Deanne C. Siemer. As Deputy Secretary Kaipat clearly stated about Ms. Siemer (former Carter Administration DOD General Counsel) in the article you linked to, “she made expenditures from her own funds for prompt publication of some [legal] notices in the Tribune and other papers.”

So, what, a volunteer can’t be reimbursed when she spends her own money for legitimate, bona fide expenses such as publication of legal notices?

Such wheel-spinning and petty vendettas detract from the noble work you and Tina are trying to accomplish. Please focus on good ideas and practical actions, not on attacking personalities.

Wendy doromal said...

Anonymous 11:40

Who are you claiming has the mentality of a “vigilante” or “witch hunt mob”?

Exposing the actions of people who deliberately and systematically cause irreparable injury to others is not a vigilante action. Exposing corrupt and harmful actions of people is not being a witch hunter. We all earn our reputations and we all choose our paths.

Siemer and Willens have the wealth, education and opportunity to pursue good deeds. They made a deliberate choice to align themselves with people who lack moral compasses and lean towards xenophobic policies. As revealed in a previous post, in 1980 Deanne Siemer was forced to resign from a position with the US Department of Energy after she attempted to place her stepson in a position with the department, in violation of federal nepotism laws. In 1994 Siemer and her former law firm were hit with a $500,000 fine for “willfully ignoring the DC rules for professional conduct for lawyers.” The malpractice case was so notorious that it was featured in a legal textbook, "Lawyers Crossing Lines, Nine Stories," by James L. Kelley. The book is an ethics/responsibility casebook that details Siemers reprehensible acts in a chapter entitled, Breaking Up is Hard to Do. Let’s not forget that it is Siemer who demonstrated “vigilante” mentality as exposed by an email to Kaipat that she mistakenly sent to Tina Sablan. Siemer’s actions in previous government and private practice positions, and as a “volunteer” have proven her to be is self-serving, and not selfless, as you claim.

You said, “Such wheel-spinning and petty vendettas detract from the noble work you and Tina are trying to accomplish. Please focus on good ideas and practical actions, not on attacking personalities.” Filing OGA requests is a good idea and practical action. Exposing corruption, corrupt persons’ actions, violation of the law, and government waste is a good idea and practical action. Writing reports and testimony to appeal for reform is a good idea and practical action. Working to educate and to advance reform measures and justice for the foreign workers is a good idea and practical action. Serving as an ethical and effective CNMI legislator is a good idea and practical action.

On the other hand, defending corruption and a dysfunctional DOL system that perpetuated labor and human rights abuses and the theft of wages from innocent foreign workers is not a good idea or a practical action. Working with an unethical governor to maintain an abusive and corrupt system is not a good idea or a practical action. Supporting employment discrimination in laws is not a good idea or practical action. Engaging in nepotism, political favors, and advancing an agenda that injures innocent people is not a good idea or practical action.

Anonymous said...

That's all well and good, but here Ms. Siemer is being pilloried for the benign activity of claiming reimbursement for out-of-pocket “expenditures from her own funds for prompt publication of some [legal] notices in the Tribune and other papers.”

We get it that you don't like her, and that you think she is a bad person because of her “associations” and very real past misconduct that you have documented.

But here you, and particularly Tina Sablan, are overplaying your hand. That does nothing for your objectivity and credibility. It's the Chicken Little syndrome, if you will.

When people do things wrong, sure, call them out on it. But indulging in rash judgment does not help anyone.

Wendy said...

Anonymous 6:51

The documents released by the Governor's Office did not disclose the purpose of the payments made to her. When the disclosure is made, then we can see what the payments were for. Until then, it is not common knowledge that she received reimbursements for out of pocket expenses or what the payments were for. It is interesting that you defend her. Why not call for full disclosure if you are so certain that there is nothing to hide? Why doesn't Siemer tell the Governor's Office to release the full documents if there is nothing to hide? If what you (and Kaipat) say is true, then why the secrecy? It is the failure to follow the OGA Act that creates suspicion.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Wendy. If they have nothing to hide, why redact the amount of the payments and their purpose? I'm betting those payments were quite substantial, disguising her compensation in the form of reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses so she could continue to claim she was a volunteer.

I also agree that she is morally and ethically corrupt, and that destroying the lives of alien workers and maligning the reputations of those who cross her is something she finds personally satisfying. It's no surprise she chose to ally herself with Fitial. They are cut from the same cloth.

Anonymous said...

Dianne Siemer is not a real volunteer if she is getting paid back for volunteering costs. Mam Wendy is a real volunteer. She uses her money to travel, pay for hotels, phone calls, and all the other costs to help OCWs.

Anonymous said...

Why not disclose all government salaries, as was done with respect to MPLA in February 2006 or the new Guam 2011 Governor's Office and Cabinet (excluding AG, Public Defender, etc.)?

What about CNMI tax rebates? 48 U.S.C. § 1843(c).