The Superior Court quashed yesterday the temporary restraining order Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC took against the Commonwealth Casino Commission early last week, but not entirely dissolving it as there are still factors that are subject to further discussion by both parties.
Superior Court Associate Judge Kenneth Govendo verbally ordered the quashing of the TRO that prohibited CCC from releasing the tax information it has collected from IPI in the past three years.
However, the TRO is not completely dissolved because CCC is still prohibited from releasing IPI’s financial statements.
IPI still insists that some, if not all, of the information in the IPI financial statements are confidential.
CCC has already made accessible to the public the monthly reports that IPI has submits to the commission from 2015 through 2018, while certain information on IPI financial statements are still to be litigated.
IPI will be submitting redacted financial statements that will also be accessible to the community.
Govendo ordered both IPI and CCC to return to court on July 9 to argue their position on the issue to allow both parties time to submit their arguments in writing and to reply, if needed.
In a short interview, CCC lawyer Michael Ernest said that, although the court has agreed with the commission’s position in large part, the TRO is not completely quashed.
“The TRO is being amended greatly to allow the release of information. At this time, we’re still actively litigating, so nothing is final for the time being,” he said.
IPI lawyer Viola Alepuyo said that IPI ultimately just wants to keep confidential the information that is protected by the Constitution.
“This is not only an issue for IPI; it’s an issue for every company in the CNMI. Could you imagine what a company would go through if their taxes were just out there or if somebody’s medical records were just out there? That’s a serious issue. Our Constitution protects this for a reason and that’s what we’ve been saying from the very beginning. If its required by law, then its required by law, but if it’s not required by law, we have no choice but to uphold our privacy rights because that privacy right is not only protected by law but it is actually protected by the Constitution, both the U.S. and the CNMI,” she said.
Alepuyo said that IPI and CCC met on Saturday and were able to find common ground after the government presented the New Jersey law, which was used to draft CNMI Public Law 19-24.
“We looked at it and we looked at the online filing in New Jersey and we saw that there was monthly information that was provided, so we were willing. When they showed us that information, we backed out from the monthly statements but the financial statements, we think, is still confidential,” she said.
Alepuyo said although she agrees that monthly reports by a CCC license holder are open to public inspection, she believes financial statements are a different story because there’s a lot of information in there that the public does not need to have access to. Alepuyo used, as an example, information of companies IPI are stakeholders of and the information on their employees.
“Public law 19-24 only says the licensee is subject to these disclosures. What that means is, if you have another company, regardless of whether its owned 100 percent by the licensee, it’s still not the licensee. We provide a lot of information to the CCC but that’s confidential. We provide information about all our staff because they’re licensed, but those are not public information because they’re confidential,” she said.