Former Division of Customs and Biosecurity director Jose Mafnas has taken his suit against the Department of Finance and its head, David Atalig, to federal court and has also included Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ chief of staff as a defendant.
After previously dropping his lawsuit against DOF and Atalig in in Superior Court, Mafnas has opted to refile his suit with the U.S. District Court for the NMI and added Torres’ chief of staff, William Castro, as a defendant.
In addition to the complaint, Mafnas, through his counsel, Charity Hodson, has also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to prohibiting the defendants from reassigning him or reverting the reassignment while the lawsuit is pending.
For the most part, the complaint remains the same, this time with an additional defendant.
According to the verified complaint, Mafnas is accusing Atalig and Castro of violating his rights and due process of law, specifically his right to freedom of speech and freedom of association.
“Defendant Secretary of Finance and defendant Castro discriminated and retaliated against plaintiff for exercising his constitutional right to freedom of association with a different political gubernatorial ticket than the incumbent governor. Defendant Secretary of Finance engaged in patronage by issuing his decision to ‘reassig’ plaintiff, which was an adverse employment action because of plaintiff’s political association. Defendant Secretary of Finance’s and defendant Castro’s actions were motivated by evil motive or intent, or involved reckless or callous indifference to the rights of plaintiff,” Hodson argued.
Hodson also alleged that Castro and Atalig caused and/or threatened to demote or change Mafnas’ civil service classification, with intent to discourage or encourage him to support a candidate for public office and/or a political party.
Mafnas’ lawyer explained her client is an open supporter of the independent Palacios-Apatang gubernatorial ticket, which is running against Torres.
“In the recent months leading up to his effective termination, plaintiff has been publicly supporting the incumbent governor’s gubernatorial opponent outside of the work place by appearing at events, fundraisers, and roadside wavings,” she said.
However, Mafnas’ constitutional right to vote freely and to associate as he sees fit has also been under fire for months since his public support of the governor’s opponent, Hodson said.
“On or about May 22, 2022, plaintiff’s niece, sent a message to…Castro regarding statements made by Castro about terminating Mafnas’ employment. When plaintiff engaged the incumbent governor’s chief of staff, on or about May 22…Castro replied: ‘Director, [I’ve] been a winner and a loser. But I’ve never lost a civil service battle.’ The same day, the plaintiff was given an adverse order by Secretary of Finance Atalig appointing [an] Officer 1 as acting director, bypassing several experienced management officers in Customs. The now-acting director is a close relative of the incumbent governor’s running mate,” Hodson said.
The court has yet to make a ruling or set a hearing date on the motions filed.