Bill authorizes public defender to apply for grants to establish permanent elder law center

Sen. Amanda Shelton (file photo)

Senator Amanda L. Shelton, the legislative Chair on the Advancement of Senior Citizens, introduced Bill No. 100-36 (COR) to authorize the Public Defender Service Corporation (PDSC) to apply for, receive, and administer federal grants to fund legal services tailored specifically for Guam’s elderly population.

“Caring for our manåmkoʹ is one of the central pillars of our island culture, and cherishing our elderly loved ones remains integral to honoring their legacy,” said Senator Shelton. “This mentality should extend to all facets of their life, including providing one of our island’s most vulnerable populations access to legal services.”

If passed, Bill 100—co-sponsored by Vice Speaker Tina Rose Muña Barnes and Senators Telena Cruz Nelson, Joe S. San Agustin, Mary Camacho Torres, and V. Anthony Ada—would require the PDSC to comply with the conditions of federal grants, subgrants, and intra-governmental and intergovernmental agreements, to include representation to individuals who may qualify for legal services.

Under Guam law, the PDSC is mandated to assist indigent residents in criminal and civil matters. Due to an increase in criminal cases, the PDSC Board of Trustees issued moratoriums on civil and domestic matters in 1997, 1999, and 2003, limiting the amount of civil work provided by the PDSC. Since 2003, the PDSC has not handled civil matters in the same volume they used to since their inception in 1975.

“This bill is especially timely as we have just opened the Elder Justice Center project program for a six-month period. Bill 100 will ease the program requirements and hopefully ensure that the program can be more permanent,” said Attorney Stephen Hattori, Executive Director of the PDSC. “We have been wanting to help Guam’s manåmko’ since I became the Executive Director in 2016. For us, this was never about the grant money from DPHSS but helping Guam’s vulnerable population get legal assistance for simple things like power of attorneys or legal consultation relative to how the manåmko’ may want to take care of their very limited assets.”

“Our elders have taught us inafaʹmaolek. Bill 100 is one way we can make good to them for their invaluable lessons,” said Vice Speaker Muña Barnes, a co-sponsor of the measure. “I want to thank Senator Shelton and the Public Defender Service Corporation for their continued advocacy for our island’s manåmkoʹ.”

“With the PDSC’s recent establishment of an Elder Justice Center pilot program, Bill 100 will equip the PDSC with the tools to ensure long-standing, necessary legal services for our manåmkoʹ,” said Senator Shelton.

In a collaboration between the Department of Public Health and Social Services (DPHSS) and the PDSC, the measure would use an existing federal grant of $190,000 to fund an Elderly Law Center. The Center would fill the gap in legal services for over 400 of our manåmkoʹ waiting for assistance.

The PDSC opened the Elder Justice Center on March 15, 2021, with the approval of the PDSC Board of Trustees in July 2020 through Resolution No. 06-20. A grand opening is scheduled for Senior Citizens Month in May 2021.

(Office of Senator Amanda L. Shelton Release)