Guam – The battle lines are being drawn in the class action suit that seeks to over-turn the Tiyan land swap law as both sides gathered Wednesday for the first court hearing in the case.
Wednesday’s hearing before Superior Court Judge Arthur Barcinas was merely a scheduling conference and none of the merits were argued, in court.
The case pits 72 former Tiyan landowners against 5-thousand other dispossessed ancestral landowners in a struggle over control of the land held in trust by the Guam Ancestral Lands Commission [GALC].
The Guam Ancestral Lands Commission has un-contested administrative control over 1,608 acres of island land. Public law 158 seeks to give title to 971 acres of that total to just 72 families who make up the former Tiyan land owners group. 60% of the total would go to a minority of the dispossessed ancestral landowners who lost their land to military condemnations after World War 2.
Attorney Curtis Van de Veld filed the lawsuit seeking to stop that from happening on behalf of the class of all dispossessed landowners. A class that he says numbers more than 5-thousand. Only 3 members of that Class were present for the court hearing.
On the other side, the Tiyan landowners group. More than a dozen of them turned out for the Wednesday hearing. They want to ensure that Public Law 158 is upheld, and the Tiyan land swap law is fully implemented.
The leader of the group, Bennie Crawford expressed confidence, pointing out that the 971 acres awarded to them under P.L. 158 are no longer a part of the GALC Trust. The new law has awarded that property to them.
However, to be sure their interests are well represented, Crawford has hired Attorney Mike Phillips. Phillips told PNC News that the place to settle the dispute was at the legislature, not in court.
Assistant Attorney General Bill Bischoff is representing GovGuam’s interests. And the argument he made in his motion to dismiss Van de Veld’s class action suit is that title to the ancestral lands was never held by any of the dispossessed land-owners. “As a matter of law, the plaintiffs have never owned the Lots in question; the Lots are being held by the GALC in public trust, and the Legislature is free to revoke or modify the terms of a public trust taht it creates.”
A restraining order remains in effect barring implementation of Public Law 158 until the merits are heard. Judge Barcinas set the next hearing date for December 10th .