WITH new rules and regulations to enforce, more public projects to implement and more cases to litigate, the government of Guam needs increased legal assistance, according to the Attorney General’s Office, which is seeking a bigger budget to augment its staff.
In its proposed budget for 2013, the AGO is requesting $17.8 million, representing a 37 percent increase from the 2012 spending level pegged at $11.2 million.
The bulk of the requested budget is proposed for personnel with an outlay of $12.26 million, which is $5.46 million more than the previous allotment.
The AGO is seeking to fill 44 existing vacant positions including one more assistant attorney general, investigators, and other legal support staff. At the same time, it is seeking to hire about 25 more attorneys who will either serve as resident legal counsel for individual agencies or designated to specific areas of expertise.
“Larger agencies with a great deal of legal work need a full-time lawyer assigned to the agency,” the AGO said. “Smaller agencies requiring less than full-time legal services would be grouped together according to related functions, with one lawyer assigned to a group of agencies.”
Carlina Charfauros, spokeswoman for the AGO, said the numbers are tentative. “We are still making changes to our numbers,” she said.
Sen. Ben Pangelinan’s appropriations committee is scheduled to hear the AGO’s budget request this afternoon.
In the budget package submitted to Pangelinan’s committee, the AGO proposed a total appropriation of $24 million, including the $6.27 million in federal grants that the office expects to receive in 2013.
“There is now a greater need than ever by the government for legal services,” the AGO said.
On top of the 181 pending litigations in courts, the AGO said it has been seeing a surge in the need for legal services regarding procurement, labor and construction matters, enforcement of regulations, and tax issues involving various government agencies.
“In sum, there has been an increase in all government regulatory activities and public works projects. The Attorney General plans to give agencies greater assistance with their regulatory functions,” the AGO said. “In order to meet the objectives of the Solicitors and Litigation Divisions, the Divisions must have trained and experienced lawyers in a variety of fields, as well as highly qualified and experienced support staff.”
The AGO said some of its attorneys have been assigned to some departments and agencies needing full-time assistance such as the Guam Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Revenue and Taxation, and the Highway Division of the Department of Public Works.
Other agencies have requested a full-time attorney, including the Department of Public Health and Social Services, the Department of Labor, Bureau of Statistics and Planning, Department of Land Management, and the Chamorro Land Trust Commission.
“Additional staff would be required to fulfill these requests. Assigning a full-time attorney to a particular agency or group of agencies provides the agency with more direct and immediate day-to-day legal advice,” the AGO said.
The AGO also noted an increase in the number of government procurements involving large amounts of money. “Four lawyers from the Solicitors Division have developed a one-day, how-to seminar for employees from the government agencies who deal with procurement matters,” the AGO said. “The seminar is being given periodically to help the agencies understand what is involved in the procurement process.”
Besides the day-to-day need for legal assistance, the AGO also noted that GovGuam is still trying to cap four major cases in federal court involving the consent decrees for the Department of Public Works and Guam Waterworks Authority as well as the permanent injunctions for the Department of Corrections and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse.
“These are large cases with regular status hearings. Due to the scope of these cases, they involve a great deal of attorney time,” the AGO said.
It added that funding for the Solicitors Division and the Litigation Division will be used to offset personnel and operational costs in 2013. “Based on past experience, the following plan of the Solicitors and Litigation Divisions is calculated to best serve the legal needs of the various government agencies and government boards and commissions,” the AGO said.