‘This is just the beginning’


Charity Hodson and Jose Mafnas

The U.S. District Court for the NMI has granted Customs and Biosecurity director Jose Mafnas’ request for an emergency temporary restraining order, reinstating him as Customs director pending a judgment on his lawsuit against the Department of Finance, Finance Secretary David DLG Atalig, and William Castro, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ chief of staff.

U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona Manglona issued yesterday a TRO against Atalig over Mafnas’ reassignment, essentially prohibiting Atalig from implementing the memorandum that reassigns Mafnas to an allegedly nonexistent division under the Department of Commerce.

The TRO will remain in effect until Aug. 16.

In a brief comment from Mafnas’ lawyer, Charity Hodson, she stated that this is only the beginning.

“This is just the beginning. But we are sincerely grateful that the court understood the emergency nature of the relief requested by Mr. Mafnas and the constitutional magnitude of what is at stake right now. It is a good day for the recognition of fundamental rights,” she said.

Aside from prohibiting Atalig from implementing his July 21 memorandum that reassigns Mafnas to a position within the CNMI Department of Commerce, Atalig was also ordered to maintain the status quo as it was before the pending controversy, with Mafnas employed as the director of Customs and Biosecurity under the Department of Finance until such time that the court has held a hearing on and decided on the motion for preliminary injunction. The hearing for that is set for Aug. 15 at 1:30 pm

Manglona noted that any action taken by the defense in violation of the temporary restraining order may be considered and prosecuted as contempt of court.

According to the TRO, the court found that the arguments presented in Mafnas’ complaint demonstrates ongoing irreparable injury that warrants a TRO.

“A temporary restraining order is necessary to preserve the status quo because the facts as alleged in the verified complaint, and based on the arguments and law presented in the motion for temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, demonstrate ongoing irreparable injury in the form of the loss of plaintiff’s property interest in his continued employment as a civil service employee, without any due process, and the chilling of his constitutional right to freedom of speech and to freely associate, which damage is ongoing and will continue to occur while a hearing on the plaintiff’s motion for preliminary injunction is pending,” Manglona said.

In addition, Manglona said a TRO is necessary due to the potential severity of the damage to Mafnas’ rights.

“These damages are difficult to calculate, and the potential extent of the severity of the damage to rights protected by the U.S. and CNMI constitutions necessitate immediate action without further notice, particularly because here the constitutional violations constitute irreparable harm,” she said.

Mafnas is suing the Department of Finance, Atalig, and Castro over his allegedly “illegal” reassignment.

Kimberly Bautista Esmores | Reporter
Kimberly Bautista Esmores has covered a wide range of news beats, including the community, housing, crime, and more. She now covers sports for the Saipan Tribune. Contact her at kimberly_bautista@saipantribune.com.
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