Pacific Daily News

HAGATNA, Guam (April 29) - In order for the Office of the Attorney General to effectively prosecute criminals and protect the public interest, it must be adequately funded. That fact was highlighted by elected Attorney General Douglas Moylan in his State of Protecting the Public Interest Address Tuesday.

"A weak, understaffed and underbudgeted office means that lawlessness thrives," Moylan said, referring to a reduction to his office's budget for fiscal 2004 and the attempt to "thwart appropriations to pay our rent." Lawmakers have suggested that the office use money budgeted for hiring new prosecutors and other lawyers to pay its rent, which recently was imposed by the Superior Court of Guam after eight years of no rent being charged.

The AG's office was made into an elected position so that it would not be a puppet to the politics of the administration. But leaving the office's budget to the sole discretion of lawmakers merely transfers and adds more strings. The Legislature is entirely capable of hamstringing the work of the attorney general by deciding how much money the office gets. Would senators be willing to allow the attorney general, or the governor, to have the same kind of control of the Legislature's budget?

What's needed is a method in which the Office of the Attorney General receives the minimum funding required to perform its required duties for the community. That number can be determined by the basic needs of the office, such as rent, utilities and staff, and the cost to prosecute cases and perform other legal services.

And the money budgeted for employees must be for the minimum staffing level required to get the job done in a timely and efficient manner. The AG's office is, and for some time has been, understaffed, which forces attorneys to carry unreasonable caseloads.

The minimum number of attorneys can be reached after getting the input of the legal community, including judges, justices and previous attorney generals. They would know, better than senators, what is required to get the job done.

The Office of the Attorney General is not just one of a number of agencies; it is a critical and necessary component of our criminal justice system, which means it's vital to our community's public safety. Senators have a duty to the people of Guam to see that the AG's office is funded to that standard of importance.

April 29, 2004

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