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Transforming justice and the OAG

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As I submit my petition to run for another term as your attorney general, I pause to reflect on the duties and responsibilities of the office and whether I have fulfilled those during my first term in office. I was constantly reminded of the oath I took in January 2014 to “faithfully support and defend the Constitution and laws of the Commonwealth and the United States…” I believe I have done so to the best of my ability. I have kept my promise to make the Office of the Attorney General work for the people. The office vigorously defended actions as well claims against the Commonwealth. I brought and settled claims on behalf of the Commonwealth on many different issues such as violation of the zoning laws, building codes, environment laws, consumer related issues and settled longstanding judgments against including land compensation claims, personnel matters, including the pursuit for the recovery of money in the case of MV Luta and many others.

The Office of the Attorney is on the path of becoming a truly independent office, free from political interference as envisioned in our Constitution. The OAG delivered legal advice to the Executive Branch, its departments, autonomous agencies, and public corporations on a variety of legal issues throughout my term. I have given our governor and lieutenant governor legal advice on legislation, on issues affecting their administration, and provided review of legal documents and undertaking by the Executive Branch. I am pleased of where we are today in my office’s relationship with the Executive Branch in the execution of Commonwealth laws.

As for the Legislature, the OAG has taken an important part in providing written comments on bills under consideration. I view this as an important and critical role as the OAG has the ultimate duty to defend the laws passed by the Legislature.

My overarching goal has and will continue to be the protection and security of our citizens. I have assembled a strong prosecution team who work day in and day out with our law enforcement partners to bring law violators to justice. Our prosecutors work hard using legal tools to keep violent and dangerous criminals off our villages and neighborhood. Our record in the Superior Court and appeals to the Supreme Court are examples of the hard work and dedication of our prosecutors. The OAG under my leadership has taken several important cases on appeal to the NMI Supreme Court as in the criminal cases of Crisostomo and Deleon Guerrero and Concepcion, and many others. We believe in applying the rule of law as prosecutors working for the people of the Commonwealth. Our attorneys adhere to the principle that the law should be applied equally regardless of rank, condition, or origin and, most importantly, that no person should be prosecuted without clear violation of our laws. The attorneys understand that any investigation and prosecution of any case carries great responsibility and that these responsibilities are not to be taken lightly. I am proud of the work of the Criminal Division in ensuring that justice is served in every case.

While we work to prosecute and convict law violators, we also believe in the rehabilitation of those who we believe based on the evidence deserve a second chance. We have this great opportunity as a community to review and bring about changes in the criminal justice system where necessary to bring about a stable and enduring community.

The OAG has made great strides in the last four years. I have established a Solicitor Division. I have appointed an assistant attorney general to handle consumer issues and complaint. Our civil division staff have been actively engaged with our government agencies, providing legal advice and assistance in drafting contracts and using proper procurement rules. Our legal services have expanded to public corporations and autonomous agencies to ensure the consistency of legal policies throughout the Commonwealth government as envisioned in the Constitution. We have provided legal assistance in drafting rules and regulations for the agencies, assisted in addressing personnel issues, and provided legal defense on a number of lawsuits filed against the Commonwealth.

The OAG has been engaged in other projects as well. We have drafted meaningful legislation for the protection and livelihood of our children in the most recent legislation establishing the Uniform Family Support Act. With the Superior Court and other agencies, we are working on establishing child support guidelines. To protect families and combat domestic violence, we drafted Public Law 20-28 which makes strangulation a specific crime and protects victims from intimidation and threats. Another OAG initiative is the legislation dealing with weapons control, called the SAFE Act. I believe we are much safer and stronger in this community with the passage of these laws. In addition, the attorneys in the OAG have been active in a number of committees established by the court as well as our representation in the CNMI Bar Association.

My goal for the next term in office is to continue to promote and ensure an open and transparent government. I initiated and published an Open Government Act pamphlet, which was made available to all the agencies. I will enforce this law on every agency of our government in my next term. This is important as our citizens depend on good governance to bring quality of life to all of us. As framed in the text of the Third Constitutional Convention, Resolution 3, “Insufficient public debate would deprive the voting public of a meaningful opportunity to form an informal opinion on critical issues which will likely determine the Commonwealth for many years to come.”

The OAG has by example published our office’s Policies and Procedures Manual in the Commonwealth Register. The Policies and Procedures Manual provides for a professional organization properly and efficiently organized. Both legal and administrative staff have received the necessary training to hone their skills and meet high performance standards. The entire OAG IT system has been upgraded to safeguard the security and integrity of our confidential files and records. Another important aspect of function of the OAG is the development of our office website, giving access to public information on our work and on matters of interest and concern.

As transformation is occurring in the OAG, I encourage all agencies of the Commonwealth to be open and transparent for the good of the people we serve.

I am humbled to have served the people as the first elected attorney general. I am proud of the work the OAG has provided to the government and the outcomes of our collaboration. There will be challenges in the years ahead but with those come great opportunities to change outdated policies that undermine the public interest and the rule of law. I am prepared and ready to serve the people of the Commonwealth once again—to the best of my ability.

Edward E. Manibusan is the attorney general of the CNMI.

Edward E. Manibusan (Special to the Saipan Tribune)

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