OUTGOING CNMI SPEAKER CRITICIZES GOVERNOR

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Legal fees for federalization lawsuit cost $1 million

By Gemma Q. Casas SAIPAN, CNMI (Mariana Variety, Jan. 7, 2010) - Outgoing Speaker Arnold I. Palacios on Tuesday said the governor’s failed federalization lawsuit, which cost taxpayers close to US$1 million, was a miscalculation that should teach elected officials to consider the long-term consequences of their actions before making major decisions.

Palacios, R-Saipan, said the incoming members of the 17th Legislature, who will be sworn in on Monday, should be wary of how the administration deals with the U.S. government.

"The governor’s lawsuit did not produce the results that he had intended," Palacios said.

"In my opinion, the House leadership received unwarranted criticism for what others claimed was an anti-local position by not supporting the lawsuit. While I understand where those sentiments may be coming from, the recent decision by the federal district court in Washington, D.C. confirmed our misgivings -- the CNMI lost on the substantive issues."

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has dismissed the lawsuit, but the administration continues to retain the law firm Jenner & Block, which gets a US$50,000 monthly retainer.

Palacios said the legal fees could have saved jobs or spared CNMI government employees from ‘Austerity Fridays’.

"There is a lesson to be learned by all of us -- not only should you calibrate legal risks, but you must also look at the long-term consequences for the CNMI and consider even the simplest of common sense logic to guide us," said Palacios.

He expressed hope that the new House majority will help ensure that there is collaboration rather than confrontation between the CNMI and U.S. governments.

"The incoming Legislature will serve us all by keeping an eye on the process of fully implementing U.S. immigration in the CNMI and ensuring that beneficial policies are in effect to allow entire families to remain in the CNMI, foster economic growth and create good paying jobs for our community," he said.

Under Palacios’ leadership, the House rejected Gov. Benigno R. Fitial’s request to use public funds for the federalization lawsuit.

The governor reprogrammed funds from his office’s account to finance the litigation.

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