Finance Secretary Larrisa Larson has asserted that Attorney General Edward Manibusan did not adhere to ethical standards of the Model Rules of Professional Responsibility as it relates to the issue of conflict of interest.
As such, Larson, through counsels Matthew T. Gregory and Kimberlyn Kay King-Hinds, said Manibusan and his office must be disqualified by the Superior Court from continuing as counsel and or party to the AG’s lawsuit against her.
In Larson’s reply to Manibusan’s opposition to her motion to disqualify, Gregory and King-Hinds pointed out that the constitution does not exempt the AG from the Model Rules of Professional Conduct.
Gregory and King-Hinds said pursuant to Model Rule 1.7, disqualification is appropriate based on a directly adverse relationship between two clients of an attorney or of a firm if there has not been full disclosure of the concurrent representation and the consent of both clients has not been obtained.
The lawyers said the AG’s broad general assertions and citations to case law recognizing the unique status of the AG does not address how he has not violated Model Rule 1.7.
The lawyers said the fact remains that Larson is still represented by the AG in multiple litigations and other matters as they pertain to the Department of Finance.
Gregory and King-Hinds said while it is a fact the AG has appointed independent counsel to represent Larson to represent her in this matter, albeit after he has sued her and failed to properly secure her informed consent pursuant to Model Rule 1.7, he has not absolved himself of the continued conflict which arose when he became a party in this lawsuit.
Gregory and King-Hinds said historically, intergovernmental disputes have been resolved through a certified question.
The lawyers said contrary to the AG’s assertion, this is a case of first impression as there has never been a case in the history of the Commonwealth where the AG has sued an agency he is constitutionally mandated to represent.
In Larson’s motion to disqualify, Gregory asserted, among other things, that as the chief legal officer of the CNMI government, the AG is constitutionally mandated to advise and represent the Finance Secretary, in her official capacity, on many matters pertaining to Finance.
Gregory noted that these actions by the AG against his client, Larson, raises serious concerns of conflict to the NMI Model Rules of Professional Responsibility.
Gregory said Manibusan’s conduct violates Model Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1.7 given the fact that he is suing an existing client.
In Manibusan’s opposition to Larson’s motion to disqualify, Manibusan said he is only exercising his obligation to uphold the CNMI Constitution in filing with a lawsuit that seeks to enjoin Larson from paying the governor, lieutenant governor, and lawmakers the increased salaries found in Public Law 19-83.
Manibusan, through counsel Office of the Attorney General Civil Division chief Christopher M. Timmons, said he found himself faced in this P.L. 19-83 issue with a choice between two obligations: to uphold the Constitution and to defend the government.
Manibusan chose the obligation to uphold the constitution and allowed a skilled attorney in private practice to perform the obligation to defend the government, said Timmons in the AG’s opposition to Larson’s motion to disqualify him (Manibusan).
Gregory has been designated as special assistant attorney general to represent Larson in this case.
Timmons said Manibusan essentially self-disqualified from representing Larson in this action.
Manibusan’s lawsuit alleges that Public Law 19-83, which provided the salary increases, is unconstitutional because the Advisory Commission that recommended such increase was not validly constituted, and that such increase recommended by the commission for the Legislature exceeded the change in an “accepted price index” since the last time the salary was adjusted.
Manibusan asked the court to issue preliminary and permanent injunctions to prevent Larson from implementing the law.