Senator Terlaje Declines Governor’s Offer

Behind the scenes political maneuvering by Terlaje to benefit Attorney Mike Phillips and possibly jeopardize U.S. citizenship of the Chamorro people

Senator Therese Terlaje

Late last night the Governor announced she would be tasking Senator Therese Terlaje and controversial attorney Mike Phillips and to take the lead on appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decision against GovGuam in the landmark Davis Case regarding the vote of self determination of the Chamorro people to decolonize.

Today Senator Therese Terlaje rejected Lou Leon Guerrero’s offer and said she is confident that Attorney General Leevin Camacho – the Chief Legal Officer of the Government of Guam – and his staff are able to represent this matter.

At stake is the ability for the "native inhabitants"of Guam to hold a vote that collectively will express the desire of Chamorros to have a closer relationship with the United States, or to separate from the United States.

Mr. Davis, in his lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court of Guam years ago, complained that the plebiscite violates his civil rights and disenfranchises him and others, who do not meet the local decolonization law's definition of 'native inhabitant.'

The District Court ruled in his favor. Former Gov. Eddie Calvo and former Attorney General Elizabeth Barrett Anderson decided to appeal the loss to the Ninth Circuit, but lost.

Attorney Mike Phillips

Sources tell Kandit News that the Governor had consulted with the Attorney General on this matter as well as local activists after the AG explained how risky it could be to appeal this decision. Sources indicate that everyone agreed to take the less risky route and to amend some local language in laws to remedy concerns and keep our CLTC program safe and avoid the potential to invalidate the plebiscite vote. However, it appears Senator Terlaje has instead been pushing for Attorney Mike Phillips to argue this case and was able to swing some of the activist support her way. The political maneuvering behind the scenes by Phillips and Terlaje are most likely what prompted this statement from the Governor.

“I have always believed that our right to self-determination belongs to the native inhabitants of Guam because only the native inhabitants of Guam were denied that most basic of human rights,” the Governor said. “Let me be clear: we value everyone that has made Guam home, but a plebiscite is meant to remedy a historical injustice—and that remedy belongs to the native inhabitants of Guam.”

Leon Guerrero further said: “While this has always been my personal belief, I must also weigh it against the careful, thorough legal advice of our Attorney General and Special Assistant AGs. They believe that there is potential for significant risk associated with an appeal to the current U.S. Supreme Court. These potential risks include the Court going beyond the narrow holding of the Ninth Circuit and invalidating our plebiscite under the Fourteenth Amendment, which could put a host of other programs, including the Chamorro Land Trust, at risk.”

The U.S. Supreme Court

But in an example of “be careful what you ask for,” the Governor then pins this appeal directly on the shoulders of Senator Terlaje and Attorney Mike Phillips.

“However, just a few days before our deadline to appeal, I have been asked by other attorneys to not forsake our right to appeal,” the Governor said. “These legal experts believe Guam must appeal regardless of the Court’s composition or the risks it may invite. They believe history must be served by making our case at the U.S. Supreme Court…. That is why I will ask the Attorney General to appoint Attorneys Mike Phillips and Senator Therese Terlaje to lead our Davis appeal in the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Senator Terlaje – the one alleged to be pushing this issue to be spearheaded by Attorney Phillips – quickly reacted and declined.

“Special AG Julian Aguon and Deputy AG Orcutt laid a brilliant foundation in the case,” Terlaje stated. “The new AG, deputy AGs, Special AG Aguon, and Attorney Mike Phillips are great legal minds and I am confident they will do everything possible to preserve our rights at this point.”

Terlaje made it clear that her job is that as a senator and not co-counsel with Mike Phillips.

“I am a Senator for the people of Guam and cannot be a lead attorney, but I will assist the Governor, the AG, and Attorney Phillips in any way possible in moving forward with this historic appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court,” she said.

Sources involved in the behind the scenes work on this matter expressed their clear frustration with Terlaje and Mike Phillips on this matter and the risk involved including the potential for Chamorros to lose their U.S. citizenship.

Attorney Mike Phillips and Senator Therese Terlaje

“Key to this equation is that if Congress ever said that Chamorros lose their citizenship neither Mike Phillips nor Therese Terlaje will be affected because they both are half white,” the source said. “Since one of their parents is not from Guam and are not Chamorro they will get to keep their U.S. citizenship based on their Caucasian parents lineage and citizenship,” the source said. “So it’s easy for them to be reckless.”

Due to the pressure from controversial and ethically-challenged attorney Mike Phillips and Senator Therese Terlaje, Governor Leon Guerrero has given in to their demands and publicly stated she will support their request to make a final appeal, this time to the United States Supreme Court. The Governor’s decision comes with grave risk, including the Ninth Circuit's narrow ruling spilling over to other areas under legal contention, like the U.S. Justice Department's lawsuit for a permanent injunction against the Chamorro Land Trust Act. Such a decision will jeopardize the leases of thousands of residents currently living and working on Chamorro Land Trust properties; and the dreams of thousands more awaiting their turn for a residential, agricultural, or commercial lease on thousands of remaining lots. It could also affect the U.S. citizenship of the Chamorro people.

Controversial Attorney Mike Phillips

Despite the dire consequences this can have on the people, Leon Guerrero is asking the Attorney General to put Mike Phillips and Therese Terlaje front and center and to take the lead. It appears Mike Phillips has convinced the Senator Terlaje that he is the man to argue this for the people of Guam when in reality he most likely is just looking for a replacement for the $70,000 a month he can no longer bill the Port since he was replaced. A new flow of millions of dollars for Mike Phillips would certainly come in the form of a Supreme Court appeal. The Governor has already said she will not pay for Mike Phillips legal fees and AG Camacho has reportedly indicated the same.

“If this is what Therese Terlaje wants then she needs to find the money to pay Mike Phillips,” the source said.

But funding may be the least of the problems facing Mike Phillips who has multiple pending ethics complaints outstanding and allegations of criminal misconduct lodged against him. In order to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court, a lawyer must present that they are in good standing with their state bar and obtain the sponsorship of two current members of the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States. These sponsors must vouch for the applicant’s qualifications and moral and professional character. Let’s just repeat that one more time. In order to get permission to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court, Attorney Michael Phillips would need to find two attorneys of the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States to vouch for Mike Phillips “moral and professional character.”

A colleague of Senator Terlaje - Senator Mary Camacho Torres - has accused Mike Phillips of illegal billing practices and unethical behavior. Her complaints are pending before the AG's Office and the Guam Bar

“This is his challenge-he claims to be able to do this,” the source told Kandit News.

Meanwhile, we reached out to members of the public for reaction. Most said they don’t really care about the behind-the-scenes political maneuvering of all the parties but are more worried about the impact this will have on them and their children and grandchildren.