Friday, September 12, 2014

J.C. Tenorio Enterprises, Inc. v. Baltazar

The Marianas Office does a lot of defense in consumer collection cases. Still, there are hundreds and hundreds of cases where poor people default on claims against them and end up in deeper debt.  The CNMI law is not consumer friendly. For example, post-judgment interest is 9%--and this is typically put on not only principal, but pre-judgment interest and attorney's fees and costs.  This exorbitant interest rate far exceeds any likely return creditors would get on their profits, if prudently invested, so they continue to have great incentive to improvidently extend credit and then take draconian measures to collect on their debts.

In a recent case, the creditor, represented by attorney Mike White, got a default judgment and then tried to seize the debtor's bank account at First Hawaiian Bank ex parte based on 7 CMC 4104.  In other words, because the creditor got a default, it tried to also get the debtor's funds on deposit without any further notice.

The consumer had defaulted; had no attorney; and no one to interpose any objection.

In this case, however, the Honorable Joseph N. Camacho, judge of the Superior Court, questioned the creditor's counsel on his legal authority to take such collection action.  WOW! This is new ground for a CNMI judge in a default consumer debt case.

In the end, the Court held that it was not convinced the creditor could just swoop in and take the funds without notice, an opportunity to be heard, and some effort to protect exempt funds, such as wages or salary necessary for the support of the judgment debtor or his or her dependents, or funds protected by federal law like Social Security, or by CNMI law like NMIRF funds.

A footnote in the decision adds emphasis to the need, even in writs of execution, to include adequate notice about exemptions.

MLSC was not involved in this case.  But it's not the first time we have seen this particular creditor's counsel try this tactic. In the past, when a Superior Court judge just rubber-stamped such an application, MLSC sued in federal court to stop execution of the seizure. (Kochi v. Superior Court,  This attorney KNOWS that the US federal district court has declared the statute unconstitutional as he was applying it, and yet he has continued to try to do so.

MLSC can't be everywhere.  So many consumer debtors go unrepresented simply because they never come to see us.  It's good to know the Superior Court is now looking a little more cautiously at such attempts. It's unfortunate, however, that it didn't even mention the existing federal court decision on the very statute at issue.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Lolita Nazaire

Our long-time friend and miracle-worker secretary of the Marianas Office, Lolita Enano Nazaire, died on September 4, 2014. May she rest in peace.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

2014 Back-to-School Project

78 backpacks, 15 mini-packs distributed; 24 lawyers/law offices and one school organization donating.  There is not enough thanks to cover how I feel.

Blog Changes

This blog, which was started for the Marianas Office of MLSC, is now "unofficial" and more appropriately considered as the work-related, but unofficial blog of Jane Mack.  I am still the Directing Attorney of the Marianas Office. But as MLSC moves more smoothly into the digital world, our office blog is less the focus of the organization, and now just my place for random news and thoughts.

For official news, you can check MLSC on Facebook:

Or MLSC's website (still under construction):

Or MLSC's LawHelp site:

Wishing you all well!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Marianas Office Domestic Intake Schedule

The Marianas Office has limited capacity to help those in need. Therefore we limit our intake on family cases (divorce, annulment, custody, child support, guardianship, adoption, name-change, etc.). 

We will be open for intake during regular office hours for family cases during the rest of 2013  on the following schedule:

May 13-23
July 15-25
Sept. 16-26
Nov. 12-21

Applicants for help in family cases may call ahead for an appointment, or walk-in and wait. 

Of course, this schedule is subject to change.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Marianas Burn-out 2013

Each year, the Marianas Office has a burn-out session. This is basically a retreat where we talk about what is right and what is wrong, what we want to keep doing and what we need to change, and assess where we've been, how successful we were on past burn-out resolutions, and how we're going to attempt our future work.  And of course, we eat and relax.

Michelle barbecues as Juanette watches and Lee, Ben, Jane and Dimitri stand around!

Morning meeting, with Frank, Lee, Ben, Polly Anne, Juanette, Maria, jane, lolita and Dimitri.  Joy tends the barbecue in the background.

Frank, Juanette, Polly Anne, Jane, Lolita, Maria and Dimitri

Bong and Polly Anne, Maria, Jane, Lolita and Juanette, Dimitri, Ben, Frank and Lee.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Convention Against Torture Case

The Marianas Office recently won a case for a Burmese national. For purposes of this article I will call her Sharon. 

Sharon was a young woman who had been politically active in Burma, her home country, protesting against the ruling military junta, which has been accused of many humanitarian abuses and violent practices over the years.  Sharon had been a resident of the CNMI in the late 1990's and early 2000's, but then had moved to Japan to work.  In Japan, she edited a political journal in the Burmese language that published counter-regime essays and called for pro-democracy reform in Burma.

Sharon learned that her father was dying, and in early 2009 she left Japan and snuck into Burma.  She convinced some airport officials in Rangoon to not notify the military that she had entered the country. Prior to leaving Japan, she applied for and received a CNMI tourist visa from the CNMI government.  At the time, the CNMI still controlled its immigration.

Once Sharon entered Burma, she was tailed by Burmese military agents who identified themselves to her family and indicated that they wanted to detain her for questioning.  Sharon had several friends and members of her own family who had been killed by the regime and she feared torture or death.

photo by racole of NY

With these threats hanging over her head, she left Burma, and using her tourist visa, entered the CNMI. It was still  early 2009.

Sharon sought MLSC help.  Dimitri Varmazis, as staff attorney in the Marianas Office, prepared an application for Protection from Refoulement, filed with the CNMI. This was the CNMI's version of asylum protection at the time.  However, before the case was definitively adjudicated by CNMI authorities, the transition to federal immigration control occurred (November 28, 2009) and the CNMI lost the ability to decide Sharon's non-refoulement case.

Sharon's status remained in limbo. Dimitri next assisted Sharon to seek humanitarian parole from USCIS.  Unfortunately for Sharon, USCIS denied her parole application and instead forwarded Sharon's name to ICE for processing and initiation of removal proceedings.

Dimitri then undertook to represent her in the removal proceedings.  At the master calendar hearing, the immigration judge found her removable based on presence in the US without admission and inspection by US immigration officials.  Dimitri then helped her file an I-589 application where she indicated that she wished to apply for withholding of removal and withholding of removal under the UN Convention Against Torture, due to her political opinion and membership in the pro-democracy group in Burma. Sharon could not request asylum because the protections of asylum are not available in the CNMI until 2015, pursuant to the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008 that extended US immigration here.

Dimitri prepared Sharon's corroborating documents for the individual merits hearing, scheduled for February 2013.  He secured four witnesses from Japan who agreed to testify that she had worked on a pro-democracy publication with them in Japan that advocated the end of military rule in Burma. 

photo by Jan van Raay

He also compiled documentation on the country conditions in Burma and the Burmese military regime's harsh treatment of political dissidents.  He found a translator on the mainland US who was able to translate excerpts from several of the pro-democracy journals that Sharon had edited.  Those excerpts included articles using incendiary language against the Burmese regime and tables of contents that clearly listed Sharon by name as an editor and financial contributor to the journal.  An immigration judge granted us permission to have the Japanese witnesses testify by telephone, and Dimitri made sure Sharon had a pre-paid phone card at the hearing for the call.

Dimitri had other obligations in February, and handed off the case to another Marianas staff attorney, Linda Wingenbach.  Linda reviewed all the work that Dimitri had done, did her own research to catch up, and met with Sharon to prepare her for the hearing.  At the hearing, Judge Wagner found the client had provided evidence sufficient to show a clear probability that there was a well-founded fear of future persecution if Sharon was removed to Burma.

This is an office victory that could not have happened without the hard work and dedication and coordination by staff in the Marianas.  The standard of proof for withholding of removal is substantially higher than if we had been able to seek asylum for Sharon.

It is not just a legal victory, either.  Sharon feels this relief has saved her life.