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3 retirees oppose pay raise for Settlement Fund trustee

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JUAN Manglona Sablan and David and Remi Sablan are opposing the approved pay raise of Settlement Fund or SF trustee Joyce C. Tang.

“We truly do not understand the rationale for the raise,” David and Remi Sablan said in a letter to Designated Judge Frances M. Tydingco-Gatewood, U.S. District Court for the NMI.

Tang’s rate of $250 an hour is now $350.

“The legal counsel's reasoning for the raise is solely based on the positive growth of the stock market and that is not a rightful claim because the positive growth of the stock market is certainly not attributed to their legal expertise nor the results of their legal services to the SF,” David and Remi Sablan said.

The legal counsel's legal services to the SF at this time should be routine without innovative thinking nor creative legal services, they added.

“For the legal counsel to simply ask for a raise in pay is truly and simply greed and should not merit approval.”

Moreover, the couple said, “the staff at the office of the SF administration should be able to operate smoothly doing daily routine work and periodic reporting to the court without a legal counsel's daily supervision. Such supervision is simply a financial drain to the SF. It only shortens the financial life span of the SF.”

The couple requested the judge to direct the SF administration to provide the beneficiaries (members of the SF) — through email, newsletter or news articles — all developments, events and activities of the SF that will impact the daily life of the retirees.

The couple likewise noted that the 10-day notice was too short to oppose the pay raise.

Judge Tydingco-Gatewood approved the rate increase for the trustee effective June 11, 2019.

Recently, she also approved Tang’s request for compensation and reimbursement of expenses, saying they were reasonable.

She ordered the Settlement Fund to pay Tang the sum of $108,890.40 for the trustee’s submitted invoices from December 2019 to July 2020.

The judge likewise  ordered the Settlement Fund to pay the trustee an additional sum of $7,397.50 for the 10% retainer withheld from invoices during the months of May 2019 through October 2019.

In his letter to court regarding the rate increase for the SF trustee, Juan Manglona Sablan said, “The timing in requesting for an increase cannot be justified when we all know that private businesses and governments worldwide are experiencing financial hardship with substantial reduction of revenues due to the worldwide epidemic of Covid-19.”

Stocks and bonds are also affected, he added.

“I do not think [there] will [be an] increase [in SF] legal cases [because] much of the pending legal issues have already been resolved since the trustee was appointed by the court,” he said.

The court should determine whether having a full-time attorney for the SF is still justified, he added.

“Should there be any legal issues, the [SF] should be given authority by the court…to hire an attorney on an as needed basis,” he said.

He added that there are “numerous attorneys on island that are capable and perhaps cheaper than the present attorney who has to travel from Guam [and whose] travel time, ground and air transportation costs [are] billable to the Fund.”

He said there are retirees who have the financial background and management experience and can serve as a trustee for the SF.

That person will make sure that he or she will do a good job because it affects his or her pension, too, Juan M. Sablan said.

He noted that the SF is paying 75% of the retirees’ pension while the CNMI government pays 25%.

With the decrease of revenues due to the Covid lockdown, the CNMI government may have to reduce the 25%, he said.

“How can the court…approve any increase of legal fees unless its justification is that the [SF] would die if the present attorney resigns as a trustee? I do not see that this will be the situation. I do not see the justification that the performance of the Fund’s assets (fixed and liquid) will be better off this year than last year.”

In her order on Sept. 3, Judge Tydingco-Gatewood said, “Objections to the trustee’s request for remuneration may be made within 10 days of this order by the plaintiff, class counsel and counsel for the CNMI government.”

November 2020 pssnewsletter

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