CNMI Senators Want To Assist Retirees Who Opt-Out Of Settlement

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Administration urges people to accept best deal the government can offer

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Sept. 16, 2013) – Some senators are drafting a resolution urging the CNMI government to help retirees who opt out of the tentatively approved NMI Retirement Fund settlement agreement, even as Gov. Eloy S. Inos and many lawmakers urge members not to opt out of the deal that they say remains the best the government could enter into under the circumstances.

"As of Friday, at least one retiree has opted out… The Legislature will ensure appropriation for his retirement outside of settlement. The class action applies to opt-ins. The Constitution still protects those who opt out. The Constitution was never amended and laws are still in place," one of the senators supporting the resolution told Saipan Tribune last night.

The senator said those who opt out "can get relief directly from the Department of Finance or the CNMI general fund."

"The Senate recognizes that fact. The Senate is preparing a resolution in the event retirees opt out, so they will have recourse and a pension and will be protected," the senator said.

This comes days after some senators including Senate Vice President Victor Hocog (R-Rota) and Sen. Pete Reyes (Ind-Saipan) described plaintiff’s attorneys as "sharks," "vampires" and "bloodsuckers," among other things, for proposing over $30 million in attorney’s fees and costs, at the expense of the CNMI government that will also be required to remit to the Retirement Fund and pay the deferred 25 percent retirees’ pension outside of the settlement fund.

The governor and lawmakers are set to meet again today on the Fund settlement deal.

After the meeting, some senators would decide whether to pre-file the resolution to help those who opt out or seek more meetings with stakeholders.

"After Monday’s meeting, the Senate will move forward," one of the senators said.

But the governor reiterated his concern that those who opt out of the settlement class will not be allowed to make a claim to benefits from the settlement fund, among other things. For them, there is no guarantee that they could receive at least 75 percent of their pension.

If at least 10 percent of the members opt out, and the deal fails, the parties will return to litigation and proceed as though there were never a settlement agreement.

The administration said the settlement deal is still the best the government can enter into, but it is only the proposed attorneys’ fees that they are concerned about.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives is poised to adopt today a joint resolution requesting the governor to "strongly oppose" Johnson’s requested attorneys’ fees, require plaintiff’s counsel to prove to the court their entitlement to attorneys’ fees, and encourage the governor "to negotiate a reasonable amount of attorney’s fees and payment terms with plaintiff’s counsel."

With additional court filings, the proposed plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees may have already reached $40 million, considering that the CNMI government’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2014 alone is $123.4 million.

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