Despite cash-strapped future, UOG pays $88K for additional legal counsel

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FOIA documents reveal Attorney Thompson has already been paid a little over $88K from the years 2015 to the present alone.

Guam – In the midst of an impending budget shortfall, the University of Guam is battling a lawsuit against Associate Professor Ron McNinch. But exactly how much has the university spent and is willing to spend in litigation fees on top of an economic crunch?

In March, UOG told PNC that they would be facing a universal struggle most public universities are confronted with today: a budget shortfall.

Over the last 15 years, UOG’s allotment decreased about 11%. To date, UOG has still not received the full $39.9 million in anticipated funds crucial to the university’s well-being.

In public hearings, President Robert Underwood has stated that the public university has had to subsist on careful spending and planning in order to remain afloat.

Yet, despite the very real cash-strapped future UOG is facing, the university is also battling a lawsuit from Associate Professor Ron McNinch.

McNinch contends that he has been harassed by UOG Union President Donald Platt and passed up for promotion due to his efforts to report sexual harassment.

The university fought back hiring an additional Attorney Todd Thompson on top of their in-house legal counsel.

Thompson comes from the firm Thompson Gutierrez & Alcantra law firm and has been providing legal services to the university in this suit for a few years now.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, PNC obtained documents that reveal Attorney Thompson has already been paid a little over $88K from the years 2015 to the present alone. And the lawsuit is far from over.

But despite the litigation price tag, isn’t UOG allowed to hire additional legal counsels especially when faced with a federal lawsuit?

According to Guam Law, 17 Guam Code Annotated 16114 states that the University of Guam “may set the terms and conditions of employment for the attorney, his or her compensation and whether he or she be appointed as a full-time employee, an independent consultant,” but then adds, “In the alternative, the University may utilize the services of a law firm it in all civil matters which concerns the University.”

Meanwhile, UOG’s Director of Communications Jonas Macapinlac wrote to PNC, “the university in-house legal counsel is a salaried employee. The university has contracted external legal counsel as a standard practice for over a decade.”

FOIA documents reveal that in 2015 alone over $30K was spent on Attorney Thompson. In 2016, a little over $48K was spent, while $7,134 was spent for the first few months in 2017 alone.

Meanwhile, Victoria Renacia, UOG’s in-house legal counsel, was paid on average, around $130 thousand per year.

It’s unclear if there’s a mechanism or price cap to keep the university from racking up additional legal fees.

And with no immediate end in sight, the lawsuit could be expected to wax on for another year.