Manibusan says he is only upholding constitution


Attorney General Edward Manibusan said he is only exercising his obligation to uphold the CNMI Constitution in filing a lawsuit that seeks to enjoin Finance Secretary Larrisa 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).

Former AG Matthew 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.

Timmons said there is no need to disqualify the Office of the Attorney General from representing Manibusan as well, as it is well settled that conflicts of interest should not be imputed among counsel within OAG.

Larson asked the Superior Court to disqualify Manibusan from continuing as counsel or party to this lawsuit.

In Larson’s motions, 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, Timmons said it is common for offices of Attorneys General to represent multiple and even opposing parties in the same proceeding, even where multiple clients have interests adverse to one another, so long as steps are taken to protect client confidences.

Timmons said Larson’s argument is predicated on Model Rule 1.7 that applies to direct conflicts.

However, Timmons said, Larson has not alleged that the specific government lawyers prosecuting this lawsuit have advised her at all, let alone in connection with the matters raised in this case.

Timmons said so long as client confidences are not breached, conflict-free members of AG’s staff may do so without fear of disqualification.

Citing previous cases, the Civil Division chief noted that historically, the CNMI AG has represented adverse governmental clients and organizations.

In this case, he said, Manibusan and Larson did not discuss the constitutionality of P.L. 19-83, and the AG immediately designated an outside counsel to represent Larson upon filing of the lawsuit.

Timmons noted that several of the statutes Manibusan is challenging are decades old, and no taxpayer has stepped up to file suit in the meantime.

Timmons said the decision to bring an action to enforce the constitutional framework to set or adjust legislative pay is within the sound discretion of the AG.

As plaintiff, Timmons pointed, Manibusan need not wait any longer to exercise his constitutional authority.

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.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at

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