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The fight over Guam’s attorney general and his role, in context

by | Jul 10, 2024 | Courts, Guam | 0 comments

On February 28, 2024, the General Attorney of Guam announced that his office would withdraw from 22 government agencies. This has led to a fierce debate over not only the General Attorney’s actions but his role.

Guam’s General Attorney Douglas Moylan (R) has caused chaos within the government. The decision to withdraw was fueled by the fact that Moylan thought he could withdraw representation from agencies that would clash with his public prosecutor role. The agencies he pulled out of were being investigated by his office.

A brief was filed by a consul representing the Guam Memorial Hospital, the Port Authority of Guam, the Guam Power Authority, and the Guam Water Authority. In this brief, they state how Moylan abandoned his Organic Act duties and urged the court to require him to fulfill them. The Organic Act is what has given the citizens of Guam US citizenship and established the territory’s government. It was passed in 1950.

Because these four agencies sought their own legal representation, it put one aspect of the Attorney General’s role into question. Moylan claimed that the four agencies had gone “rogue” since government agencies should go through the General Attorney’s office. Moylan states the lawyers are “without lawful authorization to represent their agencies” and claims that they “falsely represent to the court that their conduct is lawful when it is expressly not.”

However, the agencies argued that they had a right to representation for a couple of reasons. The first would be Moylan’s withdrawal. The other is that previously, certain agencies could hire a “special assistant attorneys general” to give their clients legal counsel. But last year, Moylan rescinded the designations. It was also pointed out that attorneys who are hired by agencies “are permitted to perform all legal services for the agency, upon request of the appointing authority or the governor.”

Attorney Leslie Travis.
Attorney Leslie Travis. Photo credit: Leslie Travis

Another huge point of contention is who the Attorney General serves. Moylan says it’s for the people, as he is a public prosecutor. The governor says the Attorney General is the government’s lawyer first. The governor also says the Attorney General should not prioritize his public prosecutor role over his Organic Act duties. He is the legal chief advisor for the Organic Act.

In court, Attorney Leslie Travis, representing the governor, said “The Attorney General has demonstrated that he is not a fan of these [professional conduct] rules […]. He doesn’t believe that they should apply to him, and he is going to drag his heels.”

The lawyers who filed the brief on behalf of GMH, PAG, GPA, and GWA stated, “This court has been forced —repeatedly— to examine Moylan’s conduct, in his official capacity as AG, including forcing him to perform his official duties to autonomous agencies.” They cited a 2004 decision where the Supreme Court of Guam ordered Moylan to work on a legal contract for the Guam International Airport Authority with a private law firm.

After 20 years, Moylan returned to his seat as the first elected Attorney General. This is because it transferred from an appointed office to an elective office.

Governor Lou Leon Guerrero.
Governor Lou Leon Guerrero. Photo credit: Governor Lou Leon Guerrero

The governor has requested a declaratory judgment from the Guam Supreme Court. It is intended to have the Supreme Court revisit previous cases to sort out the conflicting roles of the Attorney General.

A couple of weeks ago, the Supreme Court made its ruling. They ruled that the Attorney General cannot withdraw from representing government agencies that he is investigating.

“Although we still believe jurisdiction is lacking, we are considering whether to bring a request for rehearing on certain questions before the Supreme Court of Guam as the Supreme Court seems to be anticipating,” Moylan stated following the decision. He also says the review would include looking at the Supreme Court’s adoption of Hawaii’s case authority. It states that “there is no inherent conflict between the Attorney General’s role as chief legal officer and public prosecutor.”

In a press release, Governor Lou Leon Guerrero (D) stated, “The court’s decision will immediately relieve the strain and chaos the Attorney General caused in the executive branch because he refuses to perform his duties under the law and ethics rules.” She also stated, “We now have a path forward to ensure these agencies receive the services they need to do their best work for our people.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Layla Richman

Layla Richman

Layla Richman is an upcoming 2024 undergraduate at the University of the Virgin Islands. She is working toward her Associates degree in criminal justice with further ambitions to achieve a bachelor's degree. As a summer intern, she hopes to make the most out of her time and experience to further elevate her career and personal life. At Pasquines, she is Court Affairs Intern Correspondent.

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