The most embarrassing part in the House of Representatives Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee’s hearings was when witnesses summoned to testify were denied their right to speak in Chamorro and Refalawaush, according to Gov. Ralph DLG Torres.
In response to a request for comment during Friday’s radio news briefing about JGO chair Rep. Celina R. Babauta’s news release about legal fees, Torres said what was sadder actually during the JGO hearings was not the attorneys’ fees, but when the witnesses were denied to speak in the vernacular.
The governor said the JGO subpoenaed the government employees, so the witnesses wanted to exercise their right to have counsel and some wanted to speak in Chamorro or the Carolinian language, Refalawausch.
He said there would have been no legal fees if the JGO had not subpoenaed him and some government employees.
When Police Lt. Emery Kaipat of the Department of Public Safety appeared before the JGO Committee, much of his testimony touched on his constitutional right to testify in the Carolinian language and have the questions to him translated into Carolinian as well.
Later, the insistence of special assistant for administration Mathilda A. Rosario on having statements addressed to her during the JGO hearing be translated into Chamorro led to a tense exchange.
Last week, Babauta issued a press release in response to Torres’ statement on over $121,000 in legal fees incurred by the government in connection with the JGO’s investigation into the governor’s expenditures of public funds and travels.
Babauta said that Torres’ attempt to blame the JGO Committee for the legal fees is “utterly disrespectful to the CNMI Constitution.”
Babauta said it is a “perfect example of Torres’ failure to take responsibility for his actions and emblematic of his habit of blaming everyone but himself for this misconduct in office.”
In his reaction to Babauta’s statement, Torres said Friday he does not understand why Babauta stated that he was being disrespectful to the Constitution when he blamed the JGO for the legal fees incurred during the JGO hearings.
“Every individual has the right to be represented by an attorney,” he said.
The governor said Attorney General Edward Manibusan himself had denied legal representation for government employees who were being summoned by the JGO Committee. Therefore, the AG approved the hiring of private counsel as every person subpoenaed by the JGO has the right to a legal counsel, Torres said.
“How do you deny that? So if a person wants to exercise [his/her] right, who pays for that? Obviously it’s the government. So who do you blame for that?” the governor asked.
In his own news release, Torres said he had extended many invitations to members of the Legislature since the beginning regarding potential questions or concerns they may have or just to have fair and open conversations.
However, the governor said, they chose to take a different route that included subpoenaing, investigating, and questioning several dedicated government workers.
So far, the government has paid a total of $121,219 in attorneys’ fees to five of six lawyers/law firms, including a Washington, D.C.-based law firm, that served as counsel for Torres and 12 other government witnesses in the JGO hearings.