Court orders NMI to begin paying remaining $15M
Superior Court judge pro tempore Alberto C. Lamorena III praised the CNMI government for making a payment of $3 million to the heirs of the Maria Mangabao estate, but ordered the government to begin paying the heirs the balance of over $15 million within 30 days.
In an order on Friday, Lamorena expressed concern that the Commonwealth has not taken enough steps to pay the Mangabao estate in full.
If the government is unable to make payments, Lamorena said it should submit a plan on how it will pay off the obligation. Any payment plan, Lamorena said, must cover the full interest rate for each installment plus an additional 25 percent of the installment toward the principal.
For example, if the interest for the proposed installment is $100,000 then the full amount due would be $125,000.
“While it is certainly true that finding the necessary funds to make payment is difficult, the Commonwealth is required to make payment on the judgment at a reasonable rate and within a reasonable time,” Lamorena said.
Attorney Michael Dotts, counsel for the heirs, told Saipan Tribune that the government made a $3 million payment last March, reducing the total amount due from close to $20 million to about $17 million.
Work is on getting that first $3 million distributed to the heirs.
Dotts said interest is now accruing at about $957,000 per year.
Dotts said the motion that resulted in Lamorena’s order was written and filed by the late attorney Edward Arriola, who also served as counsel for the heirs.
“If it were not for Ed, this every important step forward in making the CNMI recognize and pay its legal obligations would not have happened,” Dotts.
The heirs, though Arriola and Dotts, sought an order from the CNMI Supreme Court and Superior Court to compel the government, through the Finance secretary, to pay the judgment entered in 2008 that has grown to $18.8 million over the taking of their land in Chalan Kanoa for a public purpose in 1993.
In that motion, Arriola and Dotts said the Commonwealth has paid not a cent toward satisfaction of the judgment, which continues to grow at the rate of $2,886 per day.
Arriola and Dotts said the CNMI has actually appropriated $15 million for the payment of judgments, but none of this had been paid to the Mangabao heirs.
The lawyers said additional cash in the amount of $6,032,692 is also available for payment of the judgment, but unless compelled to pay by the Supreme Court, it is clear that the government has no intention of paying the judgment.
All judges in the Superior Court have recused themselves from handling the case.
Arriola and Dotts said that Lamorena has been appointed to oversee the underlying case, but the judge has been unable to act.
While this case languishes, the heirs have grown old, many have passed away, and the heirs need the money to pay for their basic needs, the lawyers said.
They said the people of the CNMI can avoid this continuing accrual of $2,800 daily interest if it is paid.
Last January, the heirs, though Dotts and Arriola, asked the Superior Court to command Finance to pay the judgment. The Office of the Attorney General, however, asked court to deny or stay the heirs’ motion to compel to give the CNMI government time to formulate further plans for payment. Assistant attorney general Charles E. Brasington said the Commonwealth does not have an unobligated $18 million sitting in its bank accounts.
Lamorena held a status conference and motion hearing last Friday.
According to court records, the CNMI and the Mangabao heirs agreed to the taking of land consisting of 6,000 square meters in 1993 and a judgment of $4.2 million.