The NMI Settlement Fund wonders why the Office of the Attorney General is opposing the Fund’s motion over a dispute between the CNMI government and the Public School System.
The Settlement Fund, through counsel Nicole M. Torres-Ripple, pointed out that the Commonwealth is not a party to the Superior Court case filed by PSS against Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and Finance Secretary David Atalig.
Torres and Atalig have taken a legal position on the merits congruent with that of the Settlement Fund, said Torres-Ripple in the Fund’s reply filed Thursday before the federal court to the Commonwealth’s opposition to the Fund’s motion.
Torres-Ripple said to the extent that the Commonwealth’s opposition may even be considered, the U.S. District Court for the NMI should reject the Commonwealth’s attack on the court’s jurisdiction to consider the Settlement Fund’s motion, as well as its position that the payments under the settlement agreement in Betty Johnson’s class action are not grounded in the NMI Constitution—a point that even PSS concedes.
The OAG has asserted that the District Court should not inject itself in the dispute between the CNMI government and PSS over the annual PSS budget issue. Deputy Attorney General Lillian A. Tenorio recently asked the District Court to deny the NMI Settlement Fund’s request for a declaratory ruling that PSS is not entitled to 25% of the Settlement Revolving Fund and the amounts appropriated to the 25% benefit payments under the CNMI statute.
Tenorio also asked the court to deny the Settlement Fund’s request for a ruling that PSS’ actions violate the settlement agreement in Betty Johnson’s class action.
Under the settlement agreement in Johnson’s class action against the CNMI government and the NMI Retirement Fund in 2013, the CNMI government agrees to make annual payments that will enable the Settlement Fund to fund at least 75% of class members’ benefits.
Tenorio said the Settlement Fund’s legal basis for the relief falls outside the District Court’s jurisdiction under the Johnson’s settlement agreement as the Commonwealth’s obligation under that agreement are unaffected by the PSS lawsuit filed in the Superior Court.
The deputy AG said the issue of PSS’ budget under the NMI Constitution is presently being litigated in the Superior Court, and the Commonwealth’s payment obligations to Settlement Fund are not in dispute.
In the Settlement Fund’s reply to the OAG’s motion Thursday, Torres-Ripple asked the federal court to disregard the Commonwealth’s opposition in its entirety because the Commonwealth lacks standing to oppose the Settlement Fund motion and that the Settlement Fund’s motion seeks to enforce the Johnson settlement agreement against PSS. The lawyer said the Superior Court action was filed by PSS against Torres and Atalig—not the Commonwealth. She said the Commonwealth is not a party to that lawsuit and has not intervened in that case.
Moreover, Torres-Ripple said, the governor and Atalig are not adverse to the Settlement Fund and have similarly opposed PSS’ challenges to the appropriation laws. “In fact, the Commonwealth has opened that there is only a ‘remote possibility’ that the appropriations laws will be invalidated,” she said.
Torres-Ripple asked the District Court to reject the Commonwealth’s argument that the settlement agreement payments are not constitutionally mandated. She said the argument completely ignores the plain language of the settlement agreement and final judgment and the Commonwealth offers no legal authority to support this position.
PSS and Education Commissioner Dr. Alfred Ada, through counsel Tiberius Mocanu, are suing Torres and Atalig before the Superior Court to guarantee for PSS an annual budget of not less than 25% of the Commonwealth’s general revenue, alleging that Torres and Atalig are in violation of the NMI Constitution.
PSS and Ada said that Public Law 21-08, which set the Commonwealth government’s budget for fiscal year 2020, appropriated $37,718,904 to PSS, which is approximately 16% of the budget. PSS and Ada asked the court to declare that P.L. 21-08 is unconstitutional.
Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho recently granted the Settlement Fund’s motion to intervene in the lawsuit.
The Settlement Fund also filed a motion requesting that the District Court resolve PSS’ challenges to the constitutionally-mandated payment obligations owed the Settlement Fund under the settlement agreement entered in the Johnson’s class action.