The Public School System and Education Commissioner Dr. Alfred Ada are no longer pursuing a temporary restraining order/preliminary injunction in their lawsuit against Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and Finance Secretary David Atalig.
PSS and Ada, through counsel Tiberius Mocanu, informed Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho at Tuesday’s status conference in their lawsuit that they are no longer seeking the TRO/preliminary injunction as the COVID-19 crisis had already closed schools.
All other portions of the complaint remain.
PSS and Ada are suing Torres and Atalig in a bid to guarantee for PSS an annual budget of not less than 25% of the Commonwealth’s general revenue. They have also asked the court to issue a preliminary and permanent injunction to stop Torres and Atalig from issuing any payments or disbursements that do not comply with the CNMI Constitution.
Camacho also granted NMI Settlement Fund trustee Joyce Tang’s request to appear via video conference at today’s, Friday, hearing in case there are problems with the video conferencing connection. Last Tuesday, Camacho continued the hearing for today to give the parties time to read the NMI Settlement Fund’s motion to intervene in the lawsuit. Settlement Fund counsel Nicole M. Torres-Ripple cited that they have an interest in the subject of this proceeding and is entitled to the funds at issue, pursuant to the settlement agreement in Betty Johnson’s class action. The Settlement Fund had also asked the court last Tuesday to suspend proceedings in the lawsuit for three months. Torres-Ripple said this is necessary to give the Settlement Fund enough time to request the determination of the federal court on issues raised by PSS and Ada relating to the interpretation and enforcement of the settlement agreement in Johnson’s class action.
In 2013, U.S. District Court for the NMI designated Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood gave final approval to a global settlement agreement in Johnson’s class action against the CNMI government and the NMI Retirement Fund. Under the deal, the CNMI government agrees to make annual payments that will enable the settlement to fund at least 75% of class members’ benefits. With the final approval, all Retirement Fund assets were transferred to the Settlement Fund, as administered by Tang as a court-appointed trustee. Torres-Ripple said a three-month stay is warranted because the questions raised in PSS and Ada’s complaint require interpretation of the settlement agreement in Johnson’s class action.
On Tuesday, the Settlement Fund also filed a motion before the District Court, requesting that the court resolve PSS’ challenges to the constitutionally-mandated payment obligations owed the Settlement Fund under the settlement agreement in the Johnson class action.
PSS and Ada are suing Torres and Atalig to guarantee for PSS an annual budget of not less than 25% of the Commonwealth’s general revenue.
PSS and Ada alleged that Torres is in violation of the NMI Constitution because he is carrying out payments and collections under Public Law 21-088.
Mocanu said P.L. 21-0, which established the Commonwealth government budget for fiscal year 2020, appropriated $37,718,904 to PSS, which is approximately 16% of the budget.
PSS and Ada also alleged that Atalig is in violation of the NMI Constitution because every allotment and disbursement made pursuant to P.L. 21-08 is unconstitutional.
PSS and Ada asked the court to declare that P.L. 21-08 as modified by Torres is unconstitutional.
In their answer to the lawsuit, Torres and Atalig, through the Office of the Attorney General, said the governor’s actions are licensed by the state of emergency, the CNMI Constitution, the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Act, and the CNMI Emergency Health Powers Act of 2003.