Lawyers in the CNMI are being encouraged to provide free legal services to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
In a seminar at the U.S. District Court for the NMI last Friday, 27 lawyers in the CNMI explored the many opportunities here in the Commonwealth on how they can provide legal services under the POWER Act, or Pro Bono Work to Empower and Represent Act, a civil law that was enacted in September 2018 by President Donald J. Trump.
The seminar, called “The POWER Act and Pro bono Opportunities in the CNMI ‘Get a little, give a little,’ was held with the CNMI Superior Court-Family Court Division, the CNMI Bar Association, Micronesian Legal Services Corp., Community Guidance Center, and Karidat Social Services.
In an interview, U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona said the Power Act encourages attorneys to accept cases of survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault to help them through the system so that they not only learn about their rights under the law but also what would give them access to emergency shelter, transportation, and childcare.
Manglona said the seminar was in conjunction with service providers that are experts in the area of CNMI domestic violence protection and prevention.
The judge said the seminar allows attorneys to learn full process, especially for those who don’t practice this area of law.
In the first session, many lawyers were already getting information that they never knew before. The presenters were all local residents because it’s all local law.
“The presenters are really from the people who handle these….cases on a day-to-day basis,” she said.
Manglona said they gathered all the service providers to help survivors of domestic violence through the civil procedures. The seminar participants, on the other hand, included attorneys from the Office of the Attorney General and Office of the Public Defender, who are getting free continuing legal education hours, but are also learning much on the civil side.
In her remarks during the seminar, Manglona said that Congress made several findings regarding violence against individuals when lawmakers enacted the POWER Act.
She said Congress found that there existed extremely high rates of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking at the local, state, tribal, and national levels.
“Congress determined that pro bono assistance can help fill the need for legal representation for those in need of assistance, not just by providing legal representation, but also access to emergency shelter, transportation, and childcare,” the judge said.
The POWER Act requires the chief district judge in each district, or his or her designee, to lead at least one public event, “in partnership with a state, local, tribal, or territorial domestic violence service provider or coalition and a state or local volunteer lawyer project, promoting pro bono legal services as a critical way in which to empower survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, and engage citizens in assisting those survivors.”
Earlier this year, Manglona reached out to local service providers to create a committee to come up with a plan to implement the POWER Act.
Manglona said they had their first meeting last March 22 and they started with the CNMI Bar Association, represented by its president, Rene Holmes; Micronesian Legal Services Corp.’s Jane Mack; Lauri Ogumoro from Karidat, and Maisie Tenorio from the Northern Marianas Coalition against Domestic & Sexual Violence.
The committee grew to include Superior Court Family Court Judge Teresa Kim-Tenorio, and the Community Guidance Center.
Manglona said the seminar is the product of the committee’s decision to start with the basics for lawyers who do not regularly practice in this area to learn from service providers.
“Our goal is to compile all CNMI laws and services available in this area to bring awareness and resources together,” said Manglona.
In addition to getting continuing education credits for this year, Manglona hopes that the lawyers all learn enough about this area of the law and to provide assistance to those in need that would greatly impact not only a client, but maybe a family member or friend that could use the information.
The presenters at the seminar were MLSC directing attorney Jane Mack, Office of the Attorney General victim advocate Juan Aguon, Superior Court Family Court Division Family Court manager Joseph Kevin Villagomez, Northern Marianas Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence program manager Angelyn Palacios, and Community Guidance Center Ti Chechu Lahi Program’s Christopher Cabrera.