KWAJALEIN LANDOWNERS READY FOR LEGAL CHALLENGE

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By Joe Murphy

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (July 28, 2000 – Marshall Islands Journal)---The Kwajalein landowners have cobbled together a "dream team" of legal talent to represent them in their attempt to force open the issue of monetary compensation from the United States for its use of the atoll.

Describing Kwajalein as "perhaps one of the most valuable prices of real estate in the world," landowner attorney Scott Taylor took the opportunity of a newsletter to his clients to provide information on members of the legal team.

Topping the list is maverick lawyer Richard Scruggs, a showboat attorney famous for his taking the pants off the tobacco industry in the United States.

World-renowned constitutional law expert Lawrence Tribe, who 20 years ago worked as a main drafter of the Constitution of RMI, joins the team from Harvard University. Attorney Edwin Martin, one of the instigators of the Marshall Islands Atomic Testing Litigation Project (MIATLP) is also on board, along with Biloxi, Mississippi-based Paul Benton and Ted Rernke, and David McCormick of Pasagoula, Mississippi.

The three letter attorneys are badged with "helped Dick Scruggs conquer the tobacco industry in the United States," by Taylor.

Taylor told his landowner clients they are not being paid enough for their land, and pointed out that some commercial buildings in places such as New York receive more money in lease payments annually then the $15 million paid to KMR owners.

"The U.S. has recently agreed to pay $40 million per year to drop non-explosive dummy bombs on Vieques, a small Puerto Rican island. The payments go to $90 million per year if live ammunition is used," he wrote.

He said there is no question that Kwajalein is worth much more.

On June 21 the Kwaj lawyers filed a Declaratory Relief Action lawsuit. The suit explains why the lawyers feel the current land use agreement is unlawful. The argument is that the RMI did not follow proper procedure in obtaining the land, and did not make required money payments to the landowners between 1982-1985. This shortcoming, argues Taylor, undermines the right of RMI to an extension of the LUA in October 2001, when the current agreement expires.

"The RMI in our collective judgment as your attorneys, has no right to negotiate your lease payments because they have no valid lease to sublet to the U.S.," said Taylor. On July 10, RMI responded to the suit filed by the dream team, asking the court to rule that the dream team cannot represent the landowners because Lawrence Tribe has a legal conflict stemming from his work in drafting portions of the RMI Constitution.

RMI also asked the court to simply dismiss the suit due to the expiration of statute of limitations applicable to the case. Taylor says this doesn’t wash since the court is simply being asked to declare whether a document is constitutionally valid or not. He said that no money is being sought from RMI, so the statue of limitations is not applicable.

July 18, High Court issued an order calling for a full response to the suit from RMI by August 8, and on August 23rd the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment will be heard. If the dream team is successful in gaining legal right to commence negotiations on behalf of the landowners, they promise the landowners there will be no more begging: "We will stand tall and accept nothing less that fair value," wrote Taylor.

The Marshall Islands Journal, Box 14, Majuro, Marshall Islands 96960 E-mail: journal@ntamar.com  Subscriptions (weekly): 1 year US $87.00; international $213.00 (air mail).

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