San Nicolas reconsiders

Judge sanctions IPI; orders IPI to pay attorneys’ fees, court costs

Joey P. San Nicolas

Former CNMI attorney general and Tinian mayor Joey Patrick San Nicolas is reconsidering whether to accept or not the job as general counsel for casino operator Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC.

Outgoing IPI general counsel Phillip J. Tydingco told U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona at a hearing yesterday morning that San Nicolas called him five minutes before the hearing to tell him he is reconsidering accepting the job as IPI general counsel.

Tydingco’s last day as IPI general counsel is today, Friday. Early this week, Tydingco filed a motion to withdraw as counsel for IPI in many cases pending before the District Court.

Saipan Tribune contacted San Nicolas for clarification on the matter yesterday but he did not reply as of press time.

A source disclosed yesterday that San Nicolas didn’t accept the job.

In his declaration in support of his motion to withdraw, Tydingco said that IPI hired San Nicolas as his replacement as IPI general counsel last Friday, Dec. 6, and that San Nicolas will soon be filing his appearance in the cases that he (Tydingco) previously handled.

At yesterday’s hearing, Tydingco argued for IPI. Kelley Butcher also appeared as Tydingco’s co-counsel for IPI.

The hearing yesterday was about motions in connection with the seven workers who are suing IPI and its contractor and subcontractor over the alleged injuries they suffered during accidents at the worksite of IPI’s casino/resort project in Garapan.

After hearing the counsels’ arguments, Manglona denied IPI’s second motion to stay or suspend the proceedings in the seven workers’ lawsuit.

Manglona also denied IPI’s motion for a protective order that seeks to prevent all discovery in the workers’ lawsuit pending the resolution of IPI’s motion to stay or suspend the proceeding in this case.

Manglona granted the workers’ counter-motion to compel IPI to respond to their discovery requests. The judge ordered IPI to respond to all discovery requests.

Manglona granted the workers’ motion to impose sanction on IPI and ordered the company to pay attorneys’ fees to the plaintiffs/workers for bringing the motion to compel.

The judge ordered the workers’ counsels, Bruce Berline and Aaron Halegua, to submit their motion for attorneys’ fees and costs related to the filing of the counter-motion to compel by Dec. 19, 2019.

Manglona also granted Tydingco’s motion to withdraw as counsel for IPI.

Manglona granted Halegua’s oral motion that IPI not submit new objections to the discovery requests.

The judge, however, denied Halegua’s oral motion requiring Tydingco to provide an update to Butcher regarding steps taken to ensure the availability of all electronically stored information.

According to the minutes of the hearing, in his argument in support of IPI’s motion to stay, Tydingco asked the court to take notice of prior filings on IPI’s first motion to stay regarding ongoing criminal investigations and search warrants against IPI.

In IPI’s motion for a protective order, Tydingco said such order is warranted in this case as allowing discovery to proceed in light of IPI’s motion to stay defeats or otherwise undermines the purpose and intent of the mandatory stay.

Tydingco added that this would cause IPI to “suffer annoyance, oppression as well as deprivation of certain protections and rights associated with criminal proceedings.”

In plaintiffs’ opposition to IPI’s motion for a protective order, Halegua and Berline said that IPI asked the District Court for the protective order to stay all discovery only last Nov. 21 in its persistent efforts to avoid producing even a single document or answering a single interrogatory in this litigation, that the petition for the protective order came months after being served with the plaintiffs’ discovery requests and just four days prior to the date on which it had agreed to respond to those requests.

Halegua and Berline said that, without citing any relevant legal authority, IPI unpersuasively argues that “good cause” exists for the court to halt all discovery of any form because, one week earlier, IPI filed a second motion for a stay pursuant to the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.

The lawyers said IPI only offers conclusory statements and speculation of the harm that will result if a protective order is not granted, yet cites no specific facts or examples.

The lawyers said IPI’s motion for a protective order must be rejected, describing it as “clearly just one more tactic to delay discovery.”

The plaintiffs—Tianming Wang, Dong Han, Yongjun Meng, Liangcai Sun, Youli Wang, Quingchun Xu, and Xiyang Du—are suing IPI, MCC, and MCC’s subcontractor, Gold Mantis Construction Decoration (CNMI) LLC.

The plaintiffs, who are all Chinese nationals, are suing the defendants for alleged forced labor in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Re-authorization Act, forced labor in violation of the CNMI Anti-Trafficking Act, negligence, and liability for employees of subcontractor.

The workers alleged, among other things, that they were forced to work long hours for below minimum wage under extremely dangerous conditions at the casino-resort worksite.

In its response to the lawsuit, IPI, through Tydingco, said any wage claims by the plaintiffs are barred because they voluntarily illegally entered the CNMI to work.

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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