by Mindy Aguon
Guam - The Guam Ancestral Lands Commission will go back and review a decision it made more than seven years ago that granted a conditional deed of more than 250 acres of ancestral lands. After years of being tied up in superior court, the matter was sent back to the Commission to determine if the estate was ever really entitled to the property in the first place.
It will be up to the GALC, not the courts, to decide if the estate of Jose Martinez Torres has a valid claim to more than 250 acres of Ancestral Lands Commission property. The family in 2006 went before the Commission alleging they had been wronged when the military took land from their family back in 1914 and 1915. They claimed that there were past injustices and court rulings that did not allow for them to be compensated. So the Commission heard their case and the board made it clear they would only approve a conditional deed as long as the estate first went to the court to review their claim. The board at the time wanted the court to make the final judgment on the claim and if the estate did not have a valid one, the property was to be turned back to the inventory of the Commission.
And in the years to follow, attorneys for the estate and co-administrators went and brought the deed to the probate court that approved it as part of the estate instead of having the court review the validity of the claim. The family turned around and sold the property, near Two Lovers Point to a Korean investor for $19 million - $6 million was distributed to the family but the Attorney General's Office managed to get a restraining order for the remainder. Superior Court Judge Arthur Barcinas recently determined the court lacked jurisdiction.
Assistant AG William Bischoff told KUAM News, "Judge Barcinas remanded this case back to the commission for the Commission to make a decision in the first instance on the question of the validity of the estate's claim."
During a recent GALC hearing the board agreed that the estate would have to present evidence that it held a valid claim to the property and the board would need to review the evidence, something that estate lawyer Joseph Razzano asserted would be problematic for the GALC. "How will you review the testimony of the witnesses that appeared in 2006, when you lost the tape? If you don't have the evidence? How are you going to recreate the testimony of those who testified? In fact some of them are dead today, so how are you going to recreate the old evidence?" he said.
The Commission admitted that some of the tapes from the August 2006 meeting could not be located and board members expressed concerns with the previous decision for a conditional deed.
The Commission is set to hear the matter during its next meeting on November 27. Bischoff said, "If the Commission denies the claims then the estate would be entitled to take that denial to the superior court and say that they feel the denial of their claim is improper."
The Guam Ancestral Lands Commission is set to meet on November 27 to discuss the particular lot numbers that are issue: Al-002, 002-1 and 002-2.