Senators have also sought outside legal counsel - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Senators have also sought outside legal counsel

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by Ken Quintanilla

Guam - Lately there's been a lot of criticism and concern over excessive legal billings within several government entities. And the same could possibly be said for some members of the Guam Legislature who despite already having access to two full-time legal counsels have sought outside legal guidance.

The Guam Legislature's executive director Vince Arriola says considering what is introduced, debated and passed on session floor affects everyone on Guam, having adequate legal guidance is important. "The Legislature has two legal counsels, one for the majority and one for the minority," he said.

Attorneys Therese Terlaje is contracted to provide legal services to the democrats with Attorney James Espaldon to the Republicans - both work full-time and each are contracted $120,000 a year. It appears however that isn't enough. "All senators have their individual budgets and within their budgets, there's funding there for legal counsel so that's the prerogative of each individual senators and senators who have standing committees," he said.

Arriola says it's not for a lack in confidence in the current legal counsel but simply a preference by certain senators. Senator Brant McCreadie says its simply to provide that added assistance. "But it's something as a freshman senator I need and I have a lot of confidence in Tom and his work so it's absolutely a necessity for myself and my office for what the bills that we are introducing and if you look at some of the bills that we've introduced and passed, they all passed unanimously and with very little amendment," he said.

McCreadie has contracted Attorney Thomas Fisher for legal consultation and advice concerning legislation including drafting. Fisher we should add was formerly the minority's legal counsel years back. McCreadie says he budgeted $10,000 last fiscal year but only spent $7,000. For this fiscal year his office set its cap for $20,000 but hopes again to spend only half of that.  And while McCreadie is the sole Republican, he isn't the only senator seeking outside legal counsel.

Senator Tina Muna Barnes has contracted Attorney Julian Aguon for $45,000 for legal consultation for her committee. "Having been in the legislature since 2002 and having worked with the majority, it was very important," she said. "There are nine committees and in my committee alone there are all these different organizations, all these committees that we chair and having one legal counsel is not enough."

Aguon had previously worked with the legislative secretary before and according to Barnes has helped in moving forward legislation that affects our number economic driver - tourism - along with complicated housing issues and matters dealing with the mayors. Aguon we should add is also contracted with Speaker Judi Won Pat for her committee budgeted for $15,000.

And while some would question why seek outside legal counsel when one is already provided to you, McCreadie says his track record speaks for itself as he's seen "landmark legislation" such as the Three Strikes Bill and the Predator Prevention Act pass along with measures dealing with an infusion of $200 million of infrastructure buildup. "I think you look at it $7,000 to $200 million and when you ask me as a freshman senator why do I need legal counsel, it's for those reasons," he said.

And while having legal counsel doesn't necessarily prevent debate on session floor over certain bills, both senators say it not only saves time in regards to legal questions raised but saves negative impacts to the community who ultimately have to live with certain measures enacted into law. "The savings that it has provided to the committee is a very big plus to the community," Senator Barnes said.

We should add Majority Leader Rory Respicio also seeks outside legal services from Mary Louise Wheeler at $14,400 for this current fiscal year. You can view the Legislature's legal services contracts for this and past fiscal years on GuamLegislature.com. 

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