Larson: AG not exempt from Model Rules of Professional Responsibility

ATTORNEY General Edward Manibusan is not exempt from the Model Rules of Professional Responsibility, but he did not adhere to the ethical standards of the rules as they relate to the issue of conflict of interest, according to Department of Finance Secretary Larson’s attorneys Matthew T. Gregory and Kimberlyn Kay King-Hinds.

As such, they said Manibusan and his office must be disqualified from continuing as counsel and/or party to the lawsuit against the Finance secretary.

The AG, in his official capacity, is seeking a declaratory judgment against the salary increases for the members of the Legislature, the governor and lt. governor on behalf of the people of the CNMI. He named Larson in her official capacity as defendant.

According to Larson’s lawyers, the AG’s disqualification is appropriate, “pursuant to Model Rule 1.7, based on a directly adverse relationship between two clients of an attorney or of a firm if there has not been full disclosure of the concurrent representation and the consent of both clients has not been obtained.”

The lawyers cited a previous ruling stating that while the courts have recognized the unique status of the AG, the courts have also stated that they “do not imply…that the AG…is not in his practice of law to be held to the high ethical standards delineated in the code of professional responsibility.”

Larson’s lawyers said the AG has not addressed how he has not violated model Rule 1.7 in all of his broad general assertions and citations to case law recognizing the unique status of the attorney general.

The lawyers said the Finance secretary is still represented by the AG in multiple litigations and other matters as they pertain to her department.

They said he has failed to properly secure Larson’s informed consent pursuant to Model Rule 1.7, and has not absolved himself of the continued conflict which arose when he became a party in this lawsuit.

Historically, they added, intergovernmental disputes have been resolved through a certified question.

Contrary to the AG’s assertion, the lawyers said this is a case of first impression as there has never been a case history of the commonwealth where the AG has sued an agency he is constitutionally mandated to represent.

As the chief legal officer of the CNMI government, the AG is constitutionally mandated to advise and represent the secretary of Finance in her official capacity on many matters pertaining to the department, her lawyers said.

As part of that duty, they added, it is the AG’s obligations to advise her against the implementation of laws which he deems unconstitutional, not sue to enjoin her from implementing a law about which he has yet to advise her.

Larson’s lawyers said the AG has a conflict that cannot be waived and he cannot overcome.

In response, the AG said his common-law powers enable him to file suit to prevent violations of commonwealth law, even if those violations are committed by the commonwealth government itself.

Source: Marianas Variety :

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