LET SUN SHINE ON CNMI GOVERNOR’S LAWSUIT

Editorial

Marianas Variety

SAIPAN, CNMI (July 10, 2009) – HAD the governor simply provided information regarding the financing of his federalization lawsuit in response to an Open Government Act request, this issue might have ended there. Instead, the administration continues to argue that revealing the financing source will put its "legal strategy" in jeopardy.

That would be a serious consequence — if true. But the assertion raises a whole host of other questions about the nature of the financing arrangements and why the disclosure would compromise legal strategy.

The trial court didn’t buy the AGO’s arguments and so now the administration is hoping that the appellate court would.

But given the widespread opposition to his lawsuit, did it not occur to the governor that a question might be asked about funding since the Legislature declined to appropriate funds for it?

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the public whose funds, apparently, are being used to finance it. The trial court, in its ruling, agreed with the AGO that the following should not be disclosed: Jenner & Block’s engagement letter, which includes the definition of the issues, general strategy statements and estimations of success in the lawsuit; and the detailed billing pages. "However," the trial court added, "nothing contained within the invoice summaries is a matter which is not normally, or is not already, a matter of public records. Revealing what amount the CNMI is being billed and the hourly rates of the attorneys, in no way, disadvantages the CNMI in the…[l]awsuit. Therefore, the nondisclosure is clearly unnecessary to protect a vital government interest." The same goes with the vouchers, which "merely show what payments have been made to Jenner & Block." Moreover, the memos, journal entries, and the governor’s account ledger "reflect the same payment information and add no new information."

The trial court said it is "unable to articulate a single reason that would make nondisclosure [of these documents] necessary to protect a vital government function."

Yet the administration insists on secrecy.

The Open Government Act was enacted because the government must operate in an open manner. It must divulge routine information to the public that it supposedly serves. This ensures that government processes are open to review, which provides a check on the abuses of those in power.

The law, to be sure, provides for exemptions, but, in the case before us, it is hard to conceive of a legal strategy that would collapse upon the disclosure of its financing source.

At any rate it is in the public’s interest to know how its government is funding this lawsuit. And the public will know, sooner or later.

Marianas Variety: www.mvariety.com

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