Superior Court Associate Judge David A. Wiseman once again lectured the Legislature and the CNMI government for their inaction and not honoring the courts’ judgments against the Commonwealth.
Wiseman said the Legislature grants no benefit to society when judgments are not honored.
“Certainly not when they’re ignored,” he said.
Wiseman reminded the government that a noble reputation takes great effort to build but may be swiftly destroyed. “If not today, maybe tomorrow,” he said.
Wiseman discussed the issue of courts’ judgments against the government in separate lawsuits filed by Cheryl Indalecio and Miguel Camacho against the government and the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.
On Jan. 18, 2007, Indalecio filed a first amended complaint against the government seeking relief for the loss of her son, Christopher. Indalecio alleged that physicians at Commonwealth Health Center botched an adjustment of a tracheotomy tube as Christopher was recovering from surgery. In May 2008, the government agreed to settle the case for $50,000.
In her motion, Indalecio complained that the government has yet to satisfy this judgment.
On Aug. 23, 2010, Miguel Magofna Camacho filed a complaint against the government seeking relief for the loss suffered by his son. Camacho alleged that physicians at CHC installed a rod in his son’s arm. However, due in part to complications arising from the boy’s medical condition, his arm became infected and had to be amputated. On July 19, 2013, the government agreed to settle the case for $15,000.
Indalecio and Camacho, through counsel Michael Dotts, filed a motion for an order in aid of judgment. They complained that the government has yet to pay both judgments.
They want the court to force the government to pay these judgments and to compel the Executive Branch to reprogram funds to allow the full payment.
In the alternative, the plaintiffs asked the court to direct the Legislature to pay the judgment.
In his order on Monday, Wiseman denied the plaintiffs’ motion for an order in aid of judgment “at this time,” noting that under the most recent budget act, the Legislature has set aside $8,000 for the “judgment against government” line item, an independent programming allocation.
Wiseman said part of the plaintiffs’ judgment may be paid using that fund.
In fact, the judge cited that the court has already granted such relief in its order, dated Dec. 7, 2015.
Whether the governor has been granted full reprogramming authority is not material to the question of whether the court can compel the Executive Branch to reprogram funds—as expressly limited under Section 7207—in order to satisfy a civil judgment against the government, he said.
Therefore, Wiseman said, the plaintiffs have not met their burden to show that the governor may be compelled to reprogram its funds to satisfy the judgments.
“While the Legislature’s lack of a full commitment to addressing the government’s judgment debtor obligations is undoubtedly an infraction on the administration of justice, the court is not persuaded that said inaction rises to a threat on the notion of an independent judiciary,” Wiseman said.
The plaintiffs have not met their burden to show that the court may compel the Legislature to satisfy the judgments using the judiciary’s inherent powers, he added.
“This is not the first time this court has addressed the harm of legislative inaction—or the first time the Commonwealth courts have addressed such concerns,” he said.
Wiseman said he once cautioned that this government culture of not honoring the courts’ judgments “can create an environment of distrust and may shape an unsavory reputation for the Commonwealth.”
“Our society is built on the simple, but human principle that I will honor my promise,” Wiseman said, adding that such “age-hold gesture is not the hallmark of a good society or even that of a decent society; it is the necessary foundation for a basic one.”
“It is what good mothers teach their daughters. And what good fathers teach their sons. It is what good governments do for their citizens,” he said.