‘We aren’t running away, we aren’t avoiding this’


Robert Torres

The defense counsel for three government officials who were recently sued by the CNMI attorney general for alleged illegal Super Typhoon Yutu compensation says that his clients are looking forward to their day in court and are not running away from the matter.

Attorney Robert Torres, who represents former Finance secretary Larissa Larson, former Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services commissioner Claudio Norita, and former Department of Lands and Natural Resources secretary Anthony Benavente, insists that his clients are not avoiding nor running away from the lawsuit filed by AG Edward Manibusan.

“We’re not running away; we’re not avoiding this. We’re looking forward to it. We have a status conference on Feb. 8, and we’ll see where we’re at by then,” he said.

Although yesterday was the first initial hearing on the illegal overtime lawsuit before Superior Court Presiding Judge Roberto Naraja, none of the defendants were physically present.

Speaking on the matter, Torres said he hopes that throughout these court proceedings, he wants to continue to remind the prosecution of equal responsibility and equal accountability.

“Let’s not forget to also look at the other side of accountability and let’s ensure there’s transparency, accountability, and responsibility of this. We obviously believe that the genesis of this did not emanate from anyone of [my clients]. The concept or proposal was from the Office of the Governor and, I guess, vetted through various departments before it went through,” Torres said.

“While we believe administration of this matter could have been done better, each of my clients will respond and attend to this matter. This means we’re looking at the complaints and, if the issue and the case is about accountability, then let’s have accountability on both sides of the aisle and my clients will attest to accountability for themselves,” the lawyer added.

During yesterday’s hearing, it was stated that, of the handful of former government officials who have been sued for illegal Typhoon Yutu compensation, only Larson, Norita, and Benavente appeared, as others have officially resolved the matter out of court or have yet to be served.

According to Saipan Tribune archives, Torres administration Cabinet members are facing similar lawsuits alleging illegal overtime compensation for overtime hours posted for Super Typhoon Yutu work.

Besides Larson, Norita, and Benavente, the other defendants include former Department of Community and Cultural Affairs secretary Robert Hunter, former Department of Public Works secretary James Ada, former Department of Labor secretary Vicky Benavente, and former Department of Public Safety chief Robert Guerrero. The OAG has already dropped the case against Vicky Benavente.

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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