Veteran lawyer leaves law firm he formed 20 years ago

Dotts worked for Hillblom’s companies; helped start Tribune, even delivered newspapers

Michael Dotts, a veteran lawyer who handled big clients including the late business tycoon Larry Hillblom, has left the law firm that he and Robert O’Connor formed 20 years ago.

Dotts opened his own law firm on the second floor of the DHL Building on Middle Road next to McDonald’s, last Monday, April 2.

Dotts said he wants to start working with younger attorneys on different projects.

“I do expect to join with some partners but I am going to avoid the traditional attorney partnership structure, and consider a more modern approach to operating a law office,” said Dotts in an interview.

Asked whether there was a disagreement why he decided to leave the O’Connor Berman Dotts Horey & Banes law firm, Dotts said O’Connor announced that he will retire at the end of this year.

He said the O’Connor law firm has gone through many changes and that he believes this was the right time to try something new.

Dotts said he would like to focus his law practice more sharply on real estate developments and a few larger cases.

“Having my own, smaller law firm, will give me that flexibility,” he said.

Dotts disclosed that he has an attorney joining him later in April who is from China and received her law degree in the U.S.

He said she has an advanced degree in tax law and that she will be working as a paralegal until she passed the CNMI Bar examination.

Dotts recalled how he and O’Connor formed a partnership in a law firm in 1998 that subsequently became one of the biggest law firms in the CNMI.

Dotts said that, in 1996 he was working more and more with O’Connor on labor cases for garment factories.

Two years later, he and O’Connor formed a partnership, then shortly after David G. Banes joined too. The law firm became known as O’Connor Dotts & Banes.

Greg Koeble later became a partner of the law firm.

Dotts said at one point Steven Pixley worked for their firm as an associate and got them involved with his (Pixley) friends on Guam, lawyers Michael and Dan Berman.

“That led to the creation of Pacific Lawyers,” said Dotts, adding that Michael Berman then became a non-equity partner of the Saipan firm and the law firm was called O’Connor Berman Dotts & Banes.

Joseph Horey later also joined the law firm, which then became O’Connor Berman Dotts, Horey & Banes.

Dotts came to Saipan in 1987 when Hillblom hired him as an associate attorney for his law firm. At that time O’Connor was in private practice with atty. Jay Sorenson.

Dotts and Hillblom mostly worked on a securities lawsuit filed against Saipan Cable TV that was at the time owned by Guam Cable TV and Lee Holmes.

“Whenever there was a court hearing in the Saipan Cable TV case, that night Lee Holmes would run a nasty editorial about Larry on TV,” Dotts said.

After the Saipan Cable TV case was settled, Dotts and Hillblom formed a law partnership called Hillblom & Dotts.

Dotts and Hillblom mostly handled real estate cases as the Article XII controversy was at its height at the time. Dotts was also involved in various development projects including in Palau.

Hillblom & Dotts law firm, however, did not last long because Hillblom became a special judge to the CNMI Supreme Court.

In 1992, Dotts opened his own law office inside Hillblom’s office on the third floor of the Nauru Building, which is now the Marianas Business Plaza located in Susupe.

When Sorenson left O’Connor to open his own law office, Dotts started working with O’Connor.

The late Theodore Mitchell then sued Hillblom. Dotts worked on that case with O’Connor out of O’Connor’s office.

Hillblom died in a seaplane crash in 1995.

In terms of big cases, Dotts was extensively involved on Article XII cases in the early years.

When the garment factories were going strong, he handled lots of labor and employment law cases.

Dotts considers Hillblom as his biggest client.

For Hillblom, Dotts represented Bank of Saipan, where he also served as a director for five years. He did some work for DHL but very little.

Dotts said he did work for the companies Hillblom was involved with including UMDA, MCV, Saipan Computer, and the Saipan Tribune.

“I helped start the newspaper and even delivered papers,” he recalled.

Dotts generally represented Hillblom or his companies in many cases.

“Larry Hillblom got me involved in several cases trying to protect the civil rights of CNMI residents,” said Dotts, citing that one of the most important was U.S. v. Gov. Guerrero involving the U.S. authority to enact laws effecting the CNMI.

Dotts argued in that case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

When Hillblom died, Dotts represented his (Hillblom) long-time girlfriend, Josephine Nocasa, in the probate of Hillblom’s estate. Nocasa made a claim based essentially on palimony that they eventually settled.

When the Hillblom estate wrapped up, Dotts became extensively involved with O’Connor in the class action filed against the garment factories and the retail stores.

“I primarily handled discovery for about 20 factories,” he said.

In terms of clients, Dotts represented the late Guam governor Paul Calvo and his brother, Ed.

Dotts represented the Calvos with O’Connor when the CNMI Banking Commission placed Bank of Saipan in receivership and Randall Fennell was appointed the receiver.

Dotts’ other larger clients included Korean companies like Lucky Development that is now part of LG Electronics, and E-Land Group, and Japanese companies like Nishio Iwai (now part of Sojitz).

Locally, Dotts represented Joeten Enterprises and Bridge Capital while at the O’Connor law firm. He also represented the late businessman Anthony Pellegrino and was the lead attorney of Pellegrino’s MRC case that sought damages from the CNMI over the Outer Cove Marina.

Pellegrino’s estate is now been fully paid by the CNMI.

Over the years, Dotts filed a number of medical malpractice cases against the Commonwealth Health Center and the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.

Dotts also handled a variety of controversial criminal cases and business disputes. He represented hotels in labor matters including Dai-Ichi Hotel (now the Fiesta Resort & Spa Saipan) and the Saipan Grand Hotel (now the Kanoa Resort).

Dotts has been involved in cases arising out of elections and has represented a number of politicians, including Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP), former governor Pedro Tenorio, late governor Lorenzo Guerrero, and former Guam governor Carl Gutierrez.

In 2008, Dotts got involved with the Mangabao estate and the estate’s case against the CNMI for unpaid land compensation.

The Mangabao estate was paid $19.3 million at the end of 2017.

In 2009, Dotts filed the case against Merrill Lynch on behalf of retirees that settled for more than $7 million in late 2016.

Dotts began representing Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC when it first obtained the casino license and that license was challenged by another bidder.

Since Imperial Pacific arrived on island, Dotts has been involved in a variety of matters for the company.

Dotts has also been working with other Chinese investors in building developments on Saipan.

Over the past 20 years at O’Connor law firm, Dotts estimated completing from start to finish about 100 court cases.

“I have been involved in probably 200 more matters that were not resolved through the courts,” he said.

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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