Justice building closed for over a month now

Judiciary needs $7M to replace main air-conditioning system, mold remediation

The Guma Hustisia building in Susupe is still closed to the public for over a month now, and its re-opening date remains uncertain as the Judiciary needs an estimated $7 million to remedy a mold problem and to replace the 22-year-old main air-conditioning system.

CNMI Judiciary director of courts Sonia A. Camacho said yesterday that their goal is to reopen Guma Hustisia or the House of Justice at the earliest time possible.

“Reopening depends on a working air-conditioning system and remediating the mold in the building,” Camacho said.

The courts director disclosed that the current estimated budget is $4.4 million to replace the air-conditioning system and $2.6 million for mold remediation.

The building has remained closed to the public since March 16.

Last March 27, the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. Bureau of Environmental Health confirmed the discovery of mold in the building.

Camacho said mold remediation efforts include replacing carpets in courtrooms and offices, digitizing affected documents and files, replacing acoustics wall panels in the courtrooms and acoustical ceiling boards, retaining industrial hygienist professionals, and other measures.

As to the question whether there is a company currently working on the mold problem, Camacho said the Judiciary has begun the process of selecting a company to perform a mold assessment, but they are unable to move forward until funding is secured.

“For over a month, the Judiciary has been collaborating with both the Legislature and Executive Branch to secure funding. The Judiciary has been assured that funding is forthcoming,” she said.

On criticism that the Judiciary’s negligence was a factor in the closure, Camacho said the main air-conditioning system is over 22 years old and for such an equipment to last beyond its estimated useful life, with the unrelenting tropical elements, is a testament that the Judiciary has taken extraordinary measures over the years.

“The Judiciary does not allocate funding for itself. Rather, the CNMI Constitution requires the chief justice to submit the Judiciary’s annual budget request to the Legislature,” Camacho said.

Once such a budget is submitted, she explained, the Legislature, with the Executive’s input, determines how much funding the Judiciary will receive for the fiscal year, which must then be approved by the governor.

Camacho said the Judiciary has asked for funds for mold remediation and air-conditioning repairs and maintenance in previous budget submissions.

In the Judiciary’s budget request for fiscal year 2018, they asked for $104,000 for dehumidifiers and UV lights to fight mold problems.

She said among other preventive measures, they also requested $257,408 for repair and maintenance, including for air-conditioning, of the Judiciary buildings on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.

Camacho said their total budget request for personnel, equipment supplies, and overall operation of the Supreme Court, Superior Court, Judiciary Administrative Office, and Law Revision Commission was $8,293,053, but they were given just $6,640,172.

Despite its meager resources, Camacho said, the Judiciary has worked to continue maintaining operations and providing services.

She said their building and ground maintenance division has only two employees to maintain courthouses on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.

Camacho said these two employees worked tirelessly to maintain the buildings.

“We have requested additional employees for maintenance in previous budgets, but were not allocated funds for such positions,” the courts director said.

As to the question whether judges or court employees are still holding offices inside the Guma Hustisia building, Camacho said the Judiciary has extended limited and restricted access to certain employees, while alternative work sites have been established to limit entrance into the building.

At the same time, Camacho said, the Judiciary has maintained that while the building is closed, they will continue providing services.

“Operation of certain divisions, such as the Commonwealth Recorder’s Office and Office of the Clerk of Court, require limited access to the Guma Hustisia to retrieve necessary documents,” she added.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a veteran journalist who has covered all news beats in the CNMI. Born in Lilo-an, Cebu City in the Philippines, De la Torre graduated from the University of Santo Tomas with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He is a recipient of many commendations and awards, including the CNMI Judiciary’s prestigious Justice Award for his over 10 years of reporting on the judiciary’s proceedings and decisions. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@saipantribune.com

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