Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Something rotten in the state of Saipan

I love how unelected lawyers who essentially work for the people, and then often write the laws and dramatically influence policy and legislation, can't talk to the people, only their clients, the Senate. The Senate is the people's representative, so their lawyer should be a client of the people, or am I so naive in this "amnesiac for a U.S. attorney general Alberto Gonzales times" that it is the people, not the politicians, who matter. Of course, leave it to a lawyer to come up with some ridiculous argument when confronted about sticking it to open government, accountability and citizen oriented democracy.
"A Senate legal counsel refused to explain why he advised the senators to
substitute a watered down version of the bill that would have applied the Open
Government Act to the Legislature. Mike Ernest told citizens advocate Tina Sablan
to discuss the matter with her elected representatives or get a copy of the
Senate journal — once it has been transcribed. “As an attorney, I am loath to
discuss client matters with non-clients and there are established rules which
govern those discussions,” he told Sablan. “I am prohibited by Rules of the
Commonwealth Supreme Court from discussing information obtained by the course of representing clients without their permission.”
Ernest, inappropriately named by the way, might be loath to talk, but his ducking this issue is loathsome. This quote below is either taunting someone about the essentially corrupt advice he gave legislators on how to protect their own asses by watering down the Open Government bill, damn the people and keep your checks coming, or he is slyly saying to keep pushing because it is so wrong -- kind of like a conflicted Watergate source confessing to Bob Woodward. Ernest is definitely providing political cover because the politicans will just say that "counsel advised it." For that alone, he should hang his head in shame.

He might be aghast morally at what he just did, but rationalizing is what lawyers, and people like Richard A. Pierce, do. I wasn't there, so I can't read his body language.
"Ernest said the “only rule of law of which I am aware that would permit such a
disclosure is the Open Government Act, made applicable to the Legislative
Bureau, of which I am an employee.”
It's one thing for criminal lawyers to use technicalities to service their private clients, but it is a different and altogether more horrible thing for public lawyers on public money hired to act in the public interest only to act in the politicians' interest, as Ernest seems to be doing here. Corrupt, partisan, career oriented legal advice might be good for you personally, look at the disgrace who got the top legal job in Washington, D.C., but it is still wrong. Right and wrong don't seem to matter much to a lot of lawyers. These kinds of tactics are why respect for government could not be lower among people who pay close attention to its workings.

This whole story is Exhibit A on how corrupt, secretive and disgusting our government is. This is exactly something the Bush Administration would do because they could create enough confusion to get away with it. This is a complicated issue, and even someone as interested in government as I am, haven't taken enough time to sort it all out. Tina Sablan is doing a good job holding the legislature's feet to the fire on this issue. She's probably going to lose this one, but at least someone is finally putting up a fight. Well done Tina. As for Mike Ernest. Why don't you go work in private practice in the mainland. At least there you can at least sell out for a six figure salary and be a classy escort, not the streetwalker type on wages the typical CNMI government lawyer gets -- that old $500,000 MPLA lawyer definitely excepted.

28 comments:

G said...

so disheartening.

the legal counsel for the senate (a group of public servants that should be representing the public) is stating that “attorney-client (the public is your client) privilege” precludes him from disclosing information to a member of the voting public (his real client).

side note: (excuse the typos in the definition below it was scanned in a bit batty, but if the Legislature was included fully in the OGA, as was originally the case, i assume the conversations between the LB and the senate would be public record and subject to disclosure, not just the senate journal from the hearing)

FROM OGA: (f) “Public record” means any written or printed report, book or
paper, map or plan of the Commonwealth or its respective political
subdivisions, boards, commissions, agencies, which is the property thereof,
and in or on which an entry has been made or is required to be made by law
or which any public officer or employee has received or is required to
receive For Filing, but shall not include records which invade the right of
privacy of an individual or business entity.

The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

You, Mike, Harry, and Bruce should all go hermit crab hunting. I'm sure you'd figure out all your problems after the third or fourth beer.

Jeff said...

I hate beer. Crabs are good, but lobster better.

bradinthesand said...

I just hope that Tina doesn't lose any of her steam along the way. I hope that people continue to give her support by encouraging her in the face of the many let downs she'll face along the way.

Rock on girl!




...and crabs go well with beer.


Bring both to our soccer game at 5:15pm on Wednesday night at the CPA Airport Field.

G said...

brad,

i agree. i have lost my steam. i truly hope she never does.

glen

Tomas said...

Your blog is random and hypercritical by definition and I will protect your right to political speech to the bitter end, but let's elevate the debate by laying off personal attacks against a member of the CNMI bar who is following the ethical rules of his profession. By casting schoolyard taunts and criminal insinuations against an attorney who serves your government for "streetwalker" wages, you further weaken the system that is the subject of your complaint. Comparing the exemplary work that Michael Ernest does for the Senate to that of a prostitute is crass and unfair. A prostitute may turn down a john who is too pushy, too drunk, or even a little crazy, while Mike Ernest must do his able best to service every whim and support every position of his clients, the Senate. Jeff, you have a legal right to the public record of the Senate and should focus your efforts on reviewing that record rather than attacking Mike personally. As a teacher and role model you should hold yourself to a higher standard of discourse.

Jeff said...

I didn't talk about his private life, his body type, his family, etc. I talked about his public actions regarding a moral choice to service politicians instead of the public, when he should be doing the latter. It is very similar to what Gonzales and others are doing. Yes, I think that's selling out. Yes. I think it's selling your integrity -- and cheaply. If the analogy is harsh, so was his action. I think he was acting in his career interest, not the public interest. I'm guessing he is your friend. I can understand your being upset. But understand what your friend did. He didn't have to destroy that bill, and I seriously doubt he had to have this impact on public policy and then duck the question. I'm not going to play nice with people who do the wrong thing to the public interest. I wish he didn't do that and I didn't have to write this. I don't know Mike. I know he is a diver, and as a fellow diver, I wish I could give him the benefit of the doubt. I can't here.

G said...

what happened last thursday at the senate is spot on one of the biggest reasons the cnmi is in the situation it is in right now.

proper legislation was introduced at a hearing that addressed a public concern. a session was held in order to bring that legislation to a vote. prior to the session however certain members of the senate met with their legal counsel behind closed doors. this meeting directly affect the legislation that was introduced without any public notice or notice to all senators for that matter. at thursdays session after a lot of delay tactics to get rid of the publics presence (imho) the newly modified legislation was introduced (not amended at the session... amend prior to it under direction from legal counsel). this altered legislation carried the same senate bill number as the original and had it not been reviewed by the senators at that session could have passed through under the assumption that it was the bill that was originally introduced.

this whole procedure is just wrong. it is an insult to the public as a whole.

i thank the senators who did not promptly act on it and did not rush to pass it in its new form and instead tabled it for further discussion.

i hope that through blogs like this, media outlets, letters and word of mouth the public gets full knowledge of what progressed as far as this piece of legislation is concerned.

keep in mind that when asked about how this happened by tina, mike told her he could not discuss it because of attorney-client privilege and that she could get a hold of the journal of the session (which was not available at that time). the issue is not what happened during the session so much as it is what happened prior to it. this was done in a sleazy fashion and had all the markings of a political con game.

i understand that the LB is subject to the OGA but what use is that if they can hide behind attorney client privilege. the LB consists of attorneys who deal with legislators. now whether or not attorney- government/client privilege supersedes the transparency requirements of the OGA is a whole nother subject and one that i do not believe has ever been challenge in the CNMI.

had i the time and money it would be interesting to find out.

glen

G said...

please excuse my grammatical errors. writen in haste while i was very upset.

glen

Mike said...

Mike Ernest here.

I'm not sure I know that Tomas guy but I sure do like him.

If you're interested, my memo on this issue has been released to the media. It highlights my concerns regarding SB 15-96. People may agree with my reasoning or not. I do hope it clears up the misconeptions about my position.

I do not know Mr. Turbitt but believe we have mutual friends. I appreciate that he did not attack my family (though, the Internet being forever, my kids will probably use this against me in a few years).

As a believer in the Tripp-Blaylock school of detente, I would happily discuss (what I am permitted to) over a beer or a dive, but not at the same time.

Jeff said...

I've seen the memo.

This is nothing personal Mike. There really is no need for a detente. I don't agree with what happened here. I'm sure you are otherwise a good guy. If you want to discuss it, I would, though.

Peter Bae said...

The line which reads, "Ernest, inappropriately named by the way," seems to have crossed the line of a healthy, robust discourse into personally attacking an esquire (and his family name), of someone who was merely upholding attorney-client privilege as taught throughout every law school in the US. Although I full-heartedly support the Open Government Act, holding the CNMI government accountable for every dollar that comes from the taxpayer's pockets (even a penny), I earnestly believe that Mr. Ernest did not deserve any amount of heat up to par with a faithful devotion of whole blog entry. Rather than attacking a scribe who is paid to research points of law and drafts legislations that the senators want, I wish to see the senators accountable. After all, isn't that what the Open Government Act is advocating?

Mike said...

Jeff,

Angelo and Tina have my email address. Send me an email and we can meet up (Oleai?)

And thanks to everyone for their kind words supporting me.

Mike

Mike said...

For the record, I felt that the earnest/Ernest pun was the best part of his post. I must admit I didn't appreciate the rest.

I am more than a mere scribe (though, some days that's all I do). I do give advice on what I believe is legal or not.

But I maintain (and I believe most attorneys would agree) that any conversation I have with a client about the subject of my representation of them is privileged.

The Open Government Act currently applies to the Bureau, but it only lets the public inspect our records. There is nothing in there that requires (or even PERMITS) me to CREATE documents of privileged conversations at the request of non-clients, especially when the Act does not apply to the clients.

So if I don't talk, I get whipped in the press and in the blogs. If I do talk, I get disbarred. It seems to be Mr. Turbitt's opinion that I've sold out because I won't spill some juicy details of a conversation I may or may not have had with a client or clients, but I hope he understands that I would rather face his venom than the Bar Disciplinary Committee's.

I understand the frustration people have. I really do. I just think its misplaced when the insults are directed at me.

Mike said...

And I'm totally up for a beer.

Jeff said...

I realize I was a bit harsh with Mike. I was angry at that story in the paper. I don't think I was alone. An argument can be made for the attorney client privilege thing. It isn't one I find convincing, but it is up to the person. Those who have taken exception can speak their minds as well. I don't moderate comments unless it's spam. Mike has enough friends where I'm sure one of them will fight back on his behalf. I have no ill will toward Mike. My take, and Tina's, and Eugenio's and Sen. Pangelinan's and Glen Hunter's, is that it wasn't handled the best way. I'm in the sphere of public debate so make fun of my bald head or gut or whatever. I can take it, too. I'm not on a jihad against Mike or anything to reiterate.

Jeff said...

Peter. I have lived in Korea. I have been to Shinchon. There are like 3 women's colleges in that area and it has the highest number of young, attractive Korean girls in the whole country. I think we know your agenda. I'm just kidding. It wasn't an attack on his family name really -- just a pun. Good or not the reader can judge.

Peter Bae said...

Good to hear that you lived in Korea, Jeff. I'm here to visit my sister who attends Yonsei University. Have you heard of the institution? They have a renowned KSL program (Korean as Second Language).

As for comment on Mike, it is my hope that we muckrake to find out who truly orchestrated these events, id est the senators and hold them accountable for this fiasco, ploy.

Jeff said...

My friend worked there two years ago. I referred her to the job. It was for English, though, not KSL --unless my memory is faulty on her working there, which I don't think it is. I worked in Kangnam and Juan in Incheon.

I'm going to sit down with mike and perhaps find out more -- I hope.

Best.

G said...

a senator today posted a letter to the editor that echoes my frustrations. i can not say how proud i am of her for doing that.

what is upsetting is the fact that the client in this case are the senators. the senate should be representing the public therefore their concerns should be public. if there are legalities that arise in the process of drafting legislation why would it not be beneficial to have knowledge of those discussions made public? i do not understand the secrecy.

anonymous [# 006] said...

As Mike has already responded, he can obviously take care of himself.

But your attack on the character of this government lawyer, one with an extraordarily high level of integrity, is really beyond the pale. Such vicious slander on a private citizen, reminiscent of the character assasination Stanley Torres routinely engages in to pander for votes, is one of the major reasons we have so many problems in the CNMI.

[You'd better hope citizens or politicians don't start writing letters to the editor blaming, by name, the "bad" and "incompetent" teachers we have at MHS who are "obviously" the root of all educational failings in the Commonwealth.]

Ever wonder why there is such a high turnover of government lawyers here? Why would anyone voluntarily subject himself to the abuse that is heaped on them?

Then people complain how inefficent the enactment and enforcement of our laws is, because of the revolving door of government lawyers.

Our legal system, which is at the heart of our liberties, is based on canons of professional responsibility, most importantly including attorney-client privilege. Whether you favor prosecutors or public defenders, or simply the truth, this attorney-client relationship, rooted in the common law and reminiscent of the priest-penitent privilege, is at the core of our constitutional values.

While government employees work for "the public," their ethical duty lies not to share information with every individual who walks in off the street, but to the persons whom they are retained to give advice, in this case some or all senators. You might ask, for instance, how a public defender can assist a "criminal," but in fact no one on this earth is all-knowing, and our public debate is fostered by each side having the advice of legal counsel.

Your beef is really with the individual senators. Query, if two or three senators talk about a substantive issue out of the legislative chamber, and one of them e-mails two others, is that a "deliberation" subject to the open meetings portion of the Open Government Act? Would the U.S. Congress subject itself to such "sunshine" provisions? Would that help or hinder the legislative process?

Regardless of one's views on these substantive issues, you really owe a public apology in the same forum that you made it (the Marianas Variety) for your allegations of personal malfeasance or slimy behavior against Mr. Ernest when all he was doing was following the mandatory rules of his profession, the same rules that result in fair trials throughout our nation every day.

And consider carefully whether the CNMI's problem is one of too many "bad" government attorneys like Michael Ernest, who are committed to public service at great personal sacrifice, or not enough. I'll give you a clue. It's not the government lawyers who own the big houses on the hills.

Jeff said...

I talked to Mike, got his side, and will be offering up an updated take.

Anonymous said...

Frica's letters are written by her lawyer. So was Lizama's letter in the newspaper yesterday. We should put people in leadership positions who can read and write.

G said...

does the fact that it was written by someone else lessen the intent of the letter?

what was written is what matters. same goes for what was presented at the session. the substituted bill is what matters.

it would be great to stick to the issue at hand instead of getting even more side tracked.

mr. sablan wrote his own letter and basically conveys a similar take on the same situation.

whether the senators were instructed by a lawyer to sub the bill should not be the focus. the focus should be the fact that the bill was substituted with a waterdown peice of useless legislation (useless because it changes nothing from what is currently in place.) for them to have spent a large portion of their day toying with this bill which when passed won't alter the status quo and won't address the public's concerns is terrible.

legislators need to stop with the games and either stick to what they have pledged (commitment to applying the OGA FULLY to the legislature) or just come out and say they don't believe it should apply. the lies and rhetoric is what stinks of something rancid.

how can you commit directly to a member of the voting public that you will introduce or fully support any bill fully applying the OGA to the legislature (and sign your name to it), then a few days later while that same member of the voting public is sitting in your session pull a fast one like this and try to pass a substituted bill?

glen

Anonymous said...

Frica is Tina Sablan's landlord and Tina writes Frica's letters to the newspapers.

Something is fishy there.

G said...

Frica is also my landlord and Tina does not write Frica's letters. I must say I was surprised and refreshed when I received an email version of Frica's letter (whether written by her or not).

Glen Hunter

Jeff said...

George Bush doesn't write his own stuff, and I doubt he could if he wanted to. Having a writer is typical in politics, and I don't know is she had one or not. It doesn't matter, really. She put her name to it.

Pilgrim said...

Re. Frica and her literacy....

I have had the opportunity to talk to Frica and her husband many times. I have also received emails from her. I find her to be very literate and perfectly capable of writing her own letters.

Now whether she chooses someone else to do the grunt work, so be it, but one should not question her abilities without finding out for sure. Never mind politics and particular positions on issues; Frica is the hardest working Senator I have seen in a long time, and she truly cares for the CNMI and not personal gain.