NEW PALAU ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL FROM U.S. MAINLAND

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By Jim Bebbington

DAYTON, Ohio (September 3, 1998 - Dayton Daily News)---It was just four sentences long, but it may be one of the City Hall's most unusual resignation letters: Dayton's Chief General Counsel Ken Barden said he was leaving the city to become the assistant attorney general for the island nation of Palau.

Palau, a former U.S. territory in the Pacific Ocean and four-year-old country of 17,000 people (fewer than Centerville), has its own seat in the United Nations, a president, a legislature, a supreme court and 16 states, each with its own governor.

It's also making up a legal system as it goes along.

"It is a little surrealistic," Barden acknowledged.

Barden has kept in touch with Palau since graduating from the University of Indiana law school in 1981. The group of islands, then a U.S. territory moving slowly toward independence, ran an advertisement in a legal-industry newsletter looking for someone to write its constitution. Barden applied.

"I thought that would be fun," he said. "It went to someone from Harvard."

So he toiled instead in the legal departments of Richmond, Indiana, and then Dayton.

When Palau became an independent nation in 1994, it adopted a political structure similar to that of the U.S., which had overseen the territory since the end of World War II.

As assistant attorney general, Barden is going to be endearing himself to his new neighbors by writing the tax code. He will also go to China, the Philippines and other countries to collect Palau's share of revenues from those nations' ships fishing in Palauan waters. He has agreed to work at least two years there.

But for all the difficult work ahead, he new job poses, at the least, a change of atmosphere.

In Dayton, he is paid $66,159 a year to work in the dingy, sixth-floor offices of the city's law department. Some painted walls are dirty yellow; others a sickly cream. The grim brown carpet has grooves worn from years of traffic, and the offices are lit by fluorescent bulbs of inconsistent wattage. He writes contracts and opinions and farms out litigation work to the rest of the staff.

"And you're asking why I'm leaving?" Barden said Friday.

He is heading to an island nation about 400 miles north of the equator. His house will be provided for him. He is taking a pay cut, but his expenses should be lower.

"Seafood is cheap," he said.

The country is striving to be a scuba-diving mecca and the tourist destination of choice in the South Pacific. Some of the 200 volcanic islands and atolls that make up Palau are incredibly remote; one, Peleliu, was where a Japanese soldier lived in a cave until the 1950s, unaware that World War II had ended.

Other attorneys have gone before him. One of the four justices on Palau's supreme court, which makes up almost the entire legal system, is a former Wall Street attorney.

The 17,000 Palauans are close-knit but still welcoming to outsiders, said Sherman Sato, a clerk at the recently opened Outrigger Palasia Hotel Palau in Koror, the capital city.

"We're somehow all related," Sato said. "The people here are pretty nice."

Barden, 42, thinks he will be able to handle the unique pace of island life.

Several years ago, when interviewing for a similar position in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the attorney general there warned him, "A lot of people come here and think they can goof off; I want you to know I expect a full 35 hours a week out of you."

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