Legislation seeks to streamline GovGuam's legal bills - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Legislation seeks to streamline GovGuam's legal bills

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 by Ken Quintanilla

Guam - Hundreds of thousands even millions of dollars have been spent on legal services for the Government of Guam. But legislation is once again on the table hoping to provide a more cost-effective option. But at what costs?  

Just like his hybrid retirement bill, Vice Speaker B.J. Cruz has reintroduced another measure from the last term that he hopes becomes law this time around. "The bill requires that all the autonomous agencies hire in-house counsel rather than retain private counsel and the reason for that is huge cost of private counsel," he explained.

Bill 30-33 formerly Bill 180-32 better known as The In-House Counsel Bill would mandate the employment of unclassified internal counsel for government agencies and autonomous public corporations permitted to retain outside legal counsel. "The last time, it passed and unfortunately it was vetoed and when it was vetoed, we didn't get the support of the override, so I think my colleagues understand the need to save," he added.

In his veto message, Governor Eddie Calvo stated though then-Bill 180 comes in the guise of a cost-saving measure, "its economy is false." he wrote Bill 180 intrudes upon the governor's Organic Act authority to administer the Executive Branch and further places the attorney general in the position of possibly engaging in an "unethical conflict of interest". He said, "If the port is running up, or needs to get an authorization from PUC to get a million dollar contract, let's stop and think about it especially when The port is running a deficit this year can they really afford something like that, or should they have in-house counsel handle the CSC hearings rather than paying $300 an hour for counsel for preparing and doing that kind of stuff. It's an unnecessary expense."

But as the legislature looks to puts rules in place for the Executive Branch, what about how it handles their own legal services contracts? According to what was available on their website between Fiscal Years 2011 and 2014 the legislature spent over one million dollars for legal service contracts. "Because sometimes people may have different emphasis they want and even the governor, the governor has his legal counsel, two or even three attorneys on staff at Adelup and Public Works has their own, GEDA has their own - there's nothing unusual about that, it's just trying to deal with their special needs and have somebody they can have at their disposal, not have to share, that's the difference," he said.

The previous measure passed exactly one year ago with 8 yes votes and 7 no votes from the republican minority and Senator Dennis Rodriguez Jr. In a release, Cruz says he is confident that the new legislature will allow the bill to secure the necessary votes for an override. We should note one of the testimony's in favor of the proposal was newly-elected senator Mary Torres who says the proposal was a "step in the right direction for reigning in skyrocketing legal fees incurred by agencies."

A public hearing on Bill 30 is set for Tuesday at 2:30pm. 
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