2 ranking DOC officials sue after being furloughed


Two ranking officials of the Department of Corrections are suing DOC Commissioner Wally F. Villagomez, Office of Personnel Management director Isidro K. Seman, and the CNMI government after they were allegedly unlawfully furloughed.

Corrections director Gregory F. Castro and Corrections Capt. Jose Tenorio Castro sued the three defendants for a declaratory and injunctive relief, violation of the Administrative Procedures Act, and deprivation of civil right under the CNMI Constitution.

The Castros, through counsel Joseph E. Horey, sued the CNMI government for unjust enrichment and conversion. The plaintiffs also sued Villagomez and Seman in their personal capacities for deprivation of civil right under U.S. Constitution.

As of press time yesterday, Saipan Tribune was still trying to get comments from the defendants.

The DOC officials asked the Superior Court to declare their furloughs invalid and unlawful and to set them aside and order their reinstatement with back pay.

They also asked the court to prohibit the defendants from taking any further action against them without the legally prescribed procedures and affording them the right of appeal.

They also demanded restitution, unspecified damages, court costs, and attorney’s fees.

According to Horey in the complaint filed last July 31, Seman issued a memorandum to CNMI department heads last April 7 advising them to “furlough sufficient Civil Service employees for a one-year period, to reduce the governments personnel costs by 50%.”

Horey said that, last April 16 and 17, Villagomez advised the Castros by letter that they were being placed on a temporary unpaid leave of absence expected to last through the next 12 months and they were told that this action was “not a reduction-in force or an adverse action” and that “there is no appeal process for this furlough.”

Horey said no reason was given why either director Castro or Capt. Castro was selected for furlough, and the procedure prescribed by law for furlough or reduction-in-force were not followed.

In taking their actions, the lawyer said, Seman and Villagomez “acted with reckless indifference” to the proper selection of who would be furloughed.

Last June 30, the Castros demanded that they be reinstated to their former positions with back pay. Villagomez refused in a letter to the Castros last July 21.

Horey noted that the laws of the CNMI allow for temporary involuntary separation of civil service employees from their government employment by furlough. However, he said, the applicable law provides certain procedures to be followed, and affords a right of appeal to the furloughed employee.

In the case of Castros’ furloughs, Horey said, the procedures prescribed by law were not followed, and the right of appeal was explicitly denied.

“Defendants’ action as alleged were arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, contrary to constitutional right, in excess of statutory authority, short of statutory rights, without observance of procedure required by law, and not in accordance with law,” the lawyer said.

By its conduct, Horey said, the Commonwealth has unjustly enriched itself at plaintiffs’ expense, entitling the Castros to restitution.

By its conduct, he asserted, the Commonwealth has taken the Castros’ property, in the form of the salaries due them, and wrongfully converted it to its own use.

By their action, Horey said, defendants deprived the Castros of property without due process of law, in violation of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and of the Article I, Section 5, of the CNMI Constitution.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com

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