IPI questions hiring of 3rd lawyer in NY on motion

Posted on May 25 2020


Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC is questioning its seven former workers’ hiring of a third lawyer at an hourly rate of $400 for what it says is a “fairly simple” motion for sanctions for violating discovery orders in connection with their lawsuit against IPI and its contractor and subcontractor.

IPI, through counsel Michael W. Dotts, took issue with the former workers’ request for a $400 per hour payment for New York-based attorney Times Wang, without explaining why Wang should be awarded the same rate as Aaron Halegua for filing such a simple motion.

Halegua is also the New York-based counsel for the former workers. The other counsel is Saipan attorney Bruce Berline.

Dotts urged the U.S. District Court for the NMI to award Wang $300 per hour in attorneys’ fees and costs, the same rate for Berline.

Dotts said the plaintiffs (former workers) are also asking for attorneys’ fees and costs for Wang billed in block format, which Dotts say is inappropriate.

He said IPI does not dispute the reasonableness of the remaining requests for attorneys’ fees and costs but, by conceding that attorneys’ fees and costs are owed the plaintiffs, IPI is not waiving any prior objections or its right to appeal.

The plaintiffs asked the court to award them $61,934 in attorneys’ fees in connection with their motion for sanctions.

Recently, U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona ordered IPI to pay a total of $29,459 in attorneys’ fees and costs in connection with the seven ex-workers countermotion to compel IPI to produce some documents.

The latest request for award of $61,934 pertained to Manglona’s order last April 16, finding IPI in civil contempt for violating the court’s two orders regarding discovery in connection with the lawsuit filed against IPI and two others by the seven former workers.

Manglona granted the former workers’ motion to sanction IPI and informed the parties in this case that if IPI fails to comply with the deadlines ordered that day, April 16, a monetary sanction of $2,000 a day will be imposed until IPI complies. The judge ordered IPI to file a certification of compliance to avoid sanctions.

In their motion for attorneys’ fees and costs, the workers, through Halegua and Berline, said the $61,934 is reasonable, particularly given that IPI violated two court orders and the success of their motion upon which the court granted virtually all requested relief, including a finding of civil contempt against IPI.

Halegua is demanding $47,404 in attorney’s fees for 118.51 hours of work at $400 rate an hour, while Berline is demanding $8,022 for 26.74 hours at $300 rate an hour. Halegua’s paralegal, Jacob Kessler, is requesting $508 for 4.07 hours at $125 rate per hour. Wang is demanding $6,000 in attorney’s fees for 15 hours of work at $400 rate an hour. Halegua and Berline said Wang, a 2011 graduate of New York University Law School and speaks Mandarin Chinese, provided significant assistance in preparing the workers’ motion for sanctions.

The plaintiffs, who are now based in China, are suing IPI and its contractor, MCC International Saipan Ltd. Co., and subcontractor, Gold Mantis Construction Decoration (CNMI) LLC, over the alleged injuries they suffered during accidents at the worksite of IPI’s casino/resort project in Garapan.

The plaintiffs are suing the defendants for alleged forced labor in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Re-authorization Act, forced labor in violation of the CNMI Anti-Trafficking Act, negligence, and liability for employees of subcontractor.

The plaintiffs alleged, among other things, that they were forced to work long hours for below minimum wage under extremely dangerous conditions at the casino-resort worksite.

In its response to the lawsuit, IPI, through counsel, said any wage claims by the plaintiffs are barred because they voluntarily illegally entered the CNMI to work.

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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