Friday, April 4, 2003

Senators debate bills for courts, jobs

By Steve Limtiaco
Pacific Daily News

Senators will decide whether to change the law to give Supreme Court of Guam justices control of the island's judicial system.

The Superior Court of Guam and the Supreme Court of Guam have been engaged in a power struggle for years, with both sides spending money on lobbyists to support their positions.

During yesterday's legislative session, senators debated Bill 48, by Sen. Randall Cunliffe, D-Tamuning, which would give Supreme Court justices controlling seats on a restructured judicial council. The chief justice would sit as the council's chairman.

"We have to get beyond the petty politics and get the courts moving in the right direction," Cunliffe said, noting $600,000 has been spent by the courts on lobbyists. "Look at this as a way to function that will allow the courts to take the position and have the honor they are entitled to."

Cunliffe, a practicing attorney, said the goal of his bill is to get the courts to act as a single, unified branch of government.

The five-member council would supervise the court system and would have the authority to hire a single administrator and a single chief marshal to oversee the operation of both courts. The courts currently employ separate administrators and chief marshals.

Cunliffe's bill also would clarify that the Supreme Court is the highest appellate court.
Sen. Lou Leon Guerrero, D-Tamuning, said she supports the bill because it would allow the court system to unify its operations, saving money and making it more effective.

Also during yesterday's session, senators debated Bill 45, by Vice Speaker Frank Aguon Jr., D-Yona, which would give laid-off government of Guam workers first shot at new jobs in private companies that take over government work.

Aguon said the bill requires companies to offer new jobs to former government workers first, if they qualify.
"I believe that it is the right thing to do," said Speaker Ben Pangelinan, D-Barrigada.

Sen. Robert Klitzkie, R-Yigo, said he objects to the bill because it favors former government workers over others who apply for the same jobs.

"We are the government for all of the people. We're not just the government for government employees," Klitzkie said. "It doesn't seem right to me that we should favor one group of applicant over another group of applicant as a matter of law."

He said those types of conditions can scare companies away from bidding for government work. Former GovGuam workers should already have an advantage because they have been doing those jobs, Klitzkie said.

Senators also debated a bill by Sen. Rory Respicio, D-Chalan Pago, that requires six-month performance reviews for the directors of the government's autonomous and board-controlled agencies.

Debate turned into a discussion on the independence of the public school system, with some senators saying the bill is an attempt to micromanage the public schools.

Klitzkie said the elected school board's role is to hire a superintendent for the public schools -- not to supervise the superintendent or to report on his or her performance.

Sen. Carmen Fernandez, D-Yona, said the purpose of the bill is not political interference, but increased accountability and transparency in government operations.

This article was published with the permission of the publisher of the Pacific Daily News, Guam. Any republication of this article without the explicit permission of the Pacific Daily News is in violation of federal copyright laws.

More Articles in April