Attorney General Joey Patrick San Nicolas and landowner counsel Jennifer Dockter updated Saipan lawmakers yesterday about the status of a land claim negotiation whose principal amount of $77,137 plus interest has remained unpaid for years but the delegation remains non-committal to appropriating a specific amount at this time.
Luisa Borja Quitugua, 80, has been waiting for payment for her land claim for years but so far, two payments totaling $11,800 only went toward paying a pre-judgment interest. The parties have yet to agree on the total interest.
Members of the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation have been aware of this particular land claim but so far, no specific appropriation has been put to legislation, mainly because members want to hear from the parties the specific amounts involved.
The AG and the land claimant's counsel said the numbers that have not changed is the principal amount of $77,137.
Dockter also said the pre-judgment interest has not changed: $20,389.53.
San Nicolas told lawmakers that there were two payments made: $10,000 last year through general appropriation, and just recently, $1,800 taken out of the land compensation account.
The AG asked that the Saipan delegation be mindful of an ongoing settlement discussion between the parties, and presented two options: One, make an appropriation for the principal amount while the parties continue to work on the issues of interest and compensation for having Quitugua's residence on public land. Two, wait until the parties finalize their settlement agreement and then appropriate accordingly.
“Either way we take no position. We're just here to provide the delegation with an update as to the progress of the settlement discussion,” the AG said.
Dockter said it was only on the 11th hour that the Office of the Attorney General brought up the issue of Quitugua's property, allegedly located on public land. She said this should not preclude the delegation from appropriating money for the land claim.
“I also understand this is not the only land judgment and that causes concern. Because how do we pay one when we have others in the same position? And how do we do right by one and ignore everything else that.we all know exist? And I think part of my answer to that question is we have to start somewhere. We have to start paying this at some point.This case [is] particularly disheartening because of the age of it, because of the age of the person that's owed, because it's such a small judgment in comparison [to others]. That makes it very hard to justify the continued lack of payment,” she told lawmakers.
The Legislature has yet to appropriate money to pay the government's total outstanding and unpaid judgments and settlements, now at more than $27 million excluding accruing interests, based on data from the Office of the Attorney General.
These government obligations go as far back as November 2004.
On March 1, Superior Court Associate Judge David A. Wiseman granted Quitugua's request for a writ of execution and ordered the Bank of Guam, Bank of Hawaii, and First Hawaiian Bank to release and deliver to Quitugua's lawyer the funds they are holding that belong to the CNMI government. That writ on government funds has been stayed.
The CNMI Supreme Court also ordered the AG and assistant attorney general Charles E. Brasington to explain why they should not be sanctioned for misleading the court by filing two similar motions in the high court and lower court in connection with the Quitugua land compensation claim.