Attorney General Edward Buckingham fired back at Public Auditor Michael Pai yesterday, saying it’s his duty and responsibility as attorney general to ensure that public funds are not wasted, and for the Office of the Public Auditor to comply with hiring rules.
Buckingham said his June 13 lawsuit against the public auditor over the questionable hiring of lawyers is not a way to get back at the latter over OPA’s investigation into the attorney general’s involvement in a gathering for a delegate candidate in 2010.
The attorney general described Pai’s statement to the media as a “red herring”—a rhetorical or literary tactic of diverting attention away from an item of significance.
“When a contract has a problem, we routinely write the agency and advice [them] of problems. The problems are routinely addressed. In this instance, not only were the problems not addressed [by OPA] but significant legal issues relating to the duty and authority of the attorney general [were raised],” Buckingham said in an interview at his office on Capital Hill yesterday afternoon.
For his part, press secretary Angel Demapan said that, given the facts the attorney general laid out regarding OPA’s hiring of lawyers, the Fitial administration hopes that “the public attention will focus on the real matter at hand and not the diversion of a fictitious charge of retaliation.”
“But our concern is we have a watchdog agency [which] now has red flags on the way they do business. [When] we talk about public office and public trust, the Office of the Public Auditor is no exemption, and so we ask that the fictitious charges of retaliation not be the focal point of this development but the real matters at hand,” Demapan said in an interview also at Buckingham’s office yesterday afternoon.
He added that the Fitial administration trusts that the OAG will carry out its duties and responsibilities.
Since the filing of the lawsuit, Buckingham and Pai have never communicated with each other.
Pair earlier described Buckingham’s complaint as “the latest of what appears to be a series of attempts by the AG to disrupt OPA’s access to legal counsel and to challenge its autonomy.”
Buckingham’s lawsuit was over OPA’s hiring of two lawyers.
One of the lawyers, Joseph John Przyuski, was the lead OPA investigator in the complaints filed against Buckingham’s campaign-related activities in 2010. That gathering was held at Gov. Benigno R. Fitial’s house in Gualo Rai in August 2010.[B]Lawsuit could have been avoided[/B]
Buckingham said the lawsuit could have been avoided had OPA addressed the Office of the Attorney General’s Office concerns about the contracts for two of OPA’s lawyers: Brian McMahon and Pryzuski.
But Buckingham said he’s always open to a dialogue.
When asked whether it would be better to address these concerns between OPA and OAG outside the court, Buckingham said he agrees this is a better way to do business.
But he said he won’t be silent about public statements and accusations made about him.
“I am saying I reject the claims that were made by Mr. Pai. I stand behind every statement I made and I have facts to back me up,” he said.
Pai had said that in January and February 2011, the AG made inquiries with the CNMI Bar Association and the CNMI Supreme Court “seeking unsuccessfully to find that Joe Przyuski was not a bar member in good standing.”
The CNMI Bar Association’s website lists Przyuski as an “active member.” The list is available at http://www.cnmibar.net/members.asp.
Buckingham said that on Jan. 18, CNMI Bar Association director Suzanne M. Steffy told OAG investigator Vicente B. Babauta that it was her understanding that Pryzuski was no longer residing and employed in the CNMI, therefore his status with the CNMI Bar Association was deemed terminated since or about Oct. 6, 2010, and he is no longer a recognized member of the CNMI Bar Association.
Three days later or on Jan. 21, Steffy wrote to Buckingham, saying that OPA has renewed Pryzuski’s CNMI Bar Association membership.
She said Pryzuski signed a contract with OPA before he left the island, continuing his employment and therefore continuing his membership in the CNMI Bar Association.
She said Pryzuski sent her an email in October 2010 stating he no longer resided on island and his new address was Hawaii, “which led to the misunderstanding regarding the status of his membership.”
“The interview with Vince Babauta was based solely on my reliance of Mr. Pryzuski’s email which was ambiguous at best,” Steffy told Buckingham.
A copy of the “repatriation” or travel authorization document showed that Pryzuski was repatriated from Saipan to Honolulu, Hawaii on Sept. 16, 2010. That cost the CNMI government $1,579.
Buckingham said “repatriation” is paid by the CNMI government once an individual’s contract is done or not renewed, and that person is not coming back or is not just going on vacation.
He said he checked with U.S. immigration, and there was no re-entry record.
“How do these come together? Very easy to explain—it’s called not true,” Buckingham said.
He said it was not him who went to the Supreme Court to inquire about Pryzuski.
He showed a Feb. 8, 2011 email titled “Seeking information re: J. Pryzyuski” from Supreme Court clerk and legal counsel Jennifer Dockter.
“The Supreme Court came to me,” Buckingham said.
He then responded and gave some information.
Later on, Dockter told Buckingham that “any pending investigation undertaken by the OAG cannot be discussed with any justices of the Supreme Court at this time.”