"The referenced decision is historic. This may be the first time a judge has ruled a director personally liable ... for failure to respond to a Sunshine Law request." – Former Sen. Robert Klitzkie
In a victory for members of the public who want the government of Guam to be transparent, a Superior Court judge recently imposed a $1,000 fine against a department director who failed to timely make public records fully available under the Sunshine Act.
A March 1 decision by Judge Maria Cenzon of the Superior Court of Guam held Department of Land Management Director Michael Borja personally liable for not releasing all of the public documents former Sen. Robert Klitzkie had sought, and that were supposed to have been made available to the public, under the local Sunshine Act.
'Decision is historic'
"The referenced decision is historic," Klitzkie said. "This may be the first time a judge has ruled a director personally liable ... for failure to respond to a Sunshine Law request."
The department must pay for Klitzkie's cost of filing the lawsuit to challenge the lack of public disclosure. The law firm of Dooley, Roberts and Fowler represented Klitzkie.
Klitzkie, also a former judge pro tempore, sought public records last year from Land Management to get to the bottom of the past controversy about a multimillion-dollar property of the Archdiocese of Agana.
That property, the former Accion Hotel, which was converted into a seminary, once was worth more than $40 million before it was donated to the local Catholic Church.
And when Archbishop Anthony Apuron was still in charge of the archdiocese, there were concerns that he had transferred control of that property from the archdiocese to a board controlled by New Jersey-based leaders of the Neocatechumenal Way.
That concern prompted Klitzkie to request a list of 10 documents from Land Management to try to get a clearer picture of the issue, but a department staffer only provided seven of the documents he sought. Klitzkie sought the documents to find documentation on what he called "erroneous certificates of title."
For the remaining public documents Klitzkie sought, he was then told to talk directly to the director, according to the court ruling.
When months passed and there was still no disclosure of the rest of the documents, Klitzkie sued.
'Good news for the public'
Cenzon's decision stated that the plain language of the Sunshine Act leaves the court no discretion but to personally fine Borja.
The judge also noted that for about five months, there was "near silence" by the director on Klitzkie's request for documents.
"This is good news for the public in general and media outlets," Klitzkie said.
"This decision is good news for the public in general, as it could cause directors to think twice before playing 'hide the ball.'"