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Monday, April 21, 2014

Will the real AG please stand up?

Attorney General Joey Patrick San Nicolas designated Viola Alepuyo as deputy attorney general but some lawmakers said certain powers and duties delegated to Alepuyo, based on a Nov. 23 memorandum, almost gives her equal power to that of the AG himself. All eyes are now on the AG whether he will initiate or not the process of extraditing former attorney general Edward T. Buckingham to the CNMI to face criminal charges.

“It looks like he’s relinquishing his authority to the deputy AG. Perhaps she should have been the AG because of that memo, with all due respect to the AG. Now, will the real AG stand up?” said Rep. Ray Tebuteb (IR-Saipan), when asked for comment on the memo.

San Nicolas stated in his two-page memo that Alepuyo has “the authority to review and approve, as to form and legal sufficiency, all rules and regulations submitted to the attorney general.”

Alepuyo may sub-delegate this responsibility to another when she is physically absent from the CNMI.

The AG also said that Alepuyo has “the authority to review and endorse, as to form and legal capacity, all proposed contracts, bonds, or other evidence of contractual obligations of the Commonwealth, its departments, agencies and instrumentalities, including public corporations.” Alepuyo may also sub-delegate this responsibility.

These two delegated duties were constitutionally afforded the attorney general by the NMI Constitution.

San Nicolas also said Alepuyo has “authority to review and certify that a defendant Commonwealth employee was acting within the scope of his/her office under the Government Liability Act of 1983, as amended by P.L. 15-22.”

He said that Alepuyo also has the “authority to review, approve, and if necessary, endorse all compromises and settlements on all civil claims whether brought pursuant to the Government Liability Act of 1983, as amended, or otherwise.”

Two other duties delegated to Alepuyo have to do with personnel issues within the Office of the Attorney General.

One is the authority to review and approve administrative leave for attorneys and staff designated to the OAG’s Civil Division. The other one is the authority to review and approve weekly time sheets for attorneys and staff of the OAG’s Civil Division.

Alepuyo may sub-delegate these last two authorities to another designee when she is physically absent from the CNMI.

“Unless specifically stated above, the authority delegated is not subject to sub-delegation. Notwithstanding the foregoing delegations, I reserve the right to personally exercise the powers and duties delegated to the deputy attorney general for any reason, for any subject, at my sole discretion,” San Nicolas said in his two-page memo, a copy of which was obtained by Saipan Tribune.

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial named Alepuyo as acting AG when Buckingham indicated he won’t be coming back to the CNMI. Buckingham, whom the courts declared a fugitive from justice, left the CNMI a day after the Office of the Public Auditor filed criminal charges against him and a day after he and the governor signed a no-bid, $190.8-million diesel power purchase agreement with Saipan Development LLC. The PPA is under a temporary injunction.

Fitial then appointed San Nicolas as AG and submitted his name to the Senate, which confirmed him a few weeks later. The Senate earlier rejected Alepuyo’s nomination to a board/commission.

Some lawmakers said they cannot comment on the memo delegating authorities to Alepuyo, without comparing the delegation of authorities to former deputy AGs. Another government official also noted that San Nicolas has his office in Susupe while Alepuyo is on Capital Hill.

Senate President Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota) and Sen. Ralph Torres (R-Saipan), in separate interviews yesterday, said they still believe San Nicolas is the right person for the AG job.

Torres cited San Nicolas’ statement during the public hearing on his AG nomination, that he would work to restore trust and confidence in the OAG.

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