In recent weeks and months, members of the public have expressed feelings of disappointment and even outrage following certain judges and justices' opinions on certain cases.
A man who stripped vehicle parts off a stolen car was sentenced to five years in prison, in stark contrast with the sentence given former Department of Corrections Officer Gerry Hocog, who will serve no time in prison after pleading guilty to a lesser misdemeanor charge –a big step down from the initial charges related to his role in bringing drugs into the island's prison.
The family and friends of Sgt. Ebert Piolo also recently held a protest, calling for justice after former colleague Mark Torre Jr. – who had been found guilty of negligent homicide in Piolo's shooting death – essentially was declared not guilty. A Supreme Court of Guam ruling vacated the jury's verdict on an alleged technical misstep by police, who allegedly didn't inform him of his right to remain silent in the initial moments of the incident near Torre's front yard.
On Thursday, a man convicted in the beating death of a co-worker was allowed to pay a measly $500 to the family of the victim.
These are just a few examples, so community responses to some of the more high-profile court cases have included cynicism. The prevailing public feedback, as expressed through online comments on The Guam Daily Post's coverage of these stories, has been to call for our judiciary to do better for the public and for justice.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court – through the wisdom of Justice F. Philip Carbullido, joined by Chief Justice Katherine Maraman and Justice Pro Tempore Maria Fitzpatrick – issued a ruling that was, from a regular person's perspective, based on the law and perhaps even common sense.
The ruling essentially lifted a $14 million to $17 million Port Authority of Guam potential liability related to a dispute with a failed fisheries business over a Hotel Wharf lease. The Port Authority had evicted the business for various reasons, including failure to pay rent on time, failure to build a multimillion-dollar fisheries transshipment facility as agreed and the lack of required legislative approval for the 45-year lease.
Despite the illegal lease, the fisheries business convinced an arbitration panel of private attorneys that it should be awarded $14 million, plus interest, for the value of the remainder of the 45-year lease. The Superior Court of Guam confirmed the arbitration award.
The Supreme Court ultimately ruled the arbitration panel cannot issue a decision that legitimizes an illegal deal. The Port Authority and Guam YTK Corp. didn't have legislative approval for a 45-year lease. With that, and after years of legal battle led or supported by then-Port Authority legal counsel Mike Phillips, General Manager Joanne Brown and board Chairman Daniel Tydincgo, then-Sen. Frank Aguon Jr. and Sen. Therese Terlaje, the law and common sense prevailed.
"The arbitration panel ... exceeded its authority by attempting to enforce a substantively illegal contract, and the amended arbitration award should have been vacated" under Guam law, the Supreme Court stated.
The Port Authority no longer has to fear its bank accounts could be garnished. The agency no longer has to worry about the potentially crippling effect of such a financial liability to its function to move goods through Guam's only civilian seaport. And Guam consumers won't have to pay for higher costs of goods now that the arbitration award has been struck down.
Thank you, Justices Carbullido and Maraman and Justice Pro Tempore Fitzpatrick. This is a victory for the Guam public.