CNMI FIGHT AGAINST FEDERALIZATION COSTS $1 MILLION

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D.C. law firm’s bill revealed by freedom of information

By Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Mariana Variety, Sept. 1, 2009) - The Washington-based law firm Jenner & Block billed the CNMI government close to a million dollars over the past 10 months for its legal fees in representing the administration on its anti-federalization lawsuit.

But government records show the CNMI government disbursed only US$300,000 to the law firm from funds appropriated to the governor’s office.

The billing records were disclosed yesterday to Saipan Independent Representative Tina Sablan, who won her Open Government Act lawsuit against the administration.

"It’s been a long road. I do need to take a look at the documents," Sablan told reporters late yesterday afternoon. "More questions might be raised than answered."

The governor agreed to pay Jenner & Block a retainer of US$50,000 a month, but the law firm was entitled to bill the government for extra hours rendered for any work in relation to the case, as well as for out-of-pocket reimbursements.

[PIR editor’s note: According to a story in today’s Saipan Tribune, one of the four lawyers in Jenner & Block, David W. Debruin, was paid US$700 an hour for 23.75 hours, costing the CNMI government a total of US$16,625. Three other lawyers and personnel from the law firm were each paid US$260 to US$550 an hour. ]

Documents released to Sablan covered only bills and payments made up to April. At US$50,000 every month, the law firm should have already been paid US$500,000.

But Press Secretary Charles P. Reyes Jr. said as far as he knows only US$300,000 was paid to the law firm based on their records.

"There’s a difference between billing and payments," he added.

He said the money paid to the law firm came from the executive branch’s funds and no other public entity was tapped for it.

"Everything is from government sources under the executive branch," he added.

Saipan Republican Reps. Edward T. Salas and Ray N. Yumul, who were present when Sablan was served a copy of Jenner & Block’s billings and invoices, said they were astounded at how much taxpayer money was spent on the case.

U.S. District Court for the District Court of Columbia Judge Paul Friedman is expected to issue a ruling anytime soon.

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