Judge needs to mull over Lang quarantine case

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Judge Elyze Iriarte

Merchant Mariner Marcus Lang will have to wait until Monday to find out if he will be released from quarantine.

His case is unique from other COVID petitioners as it involves the Department of Defense’s (DOD) quarantine facility and the Department of Public Health and Social Services (DPHSS). 

Lang testified that he doesn’t have an issue with the quarantine period just the fashion at which it was carried out under threat of criminal prosecution. 

“He had to pay for his own prison,” Jacqueline Terlaje told the court. 

She represents Lang, who has been identified by the US Coast Guard as an essential infrastructure worker. But instead of being exempt, he was held at the Westin DOD quarantine facility. He made attempts to sort it out with DOD and Public Health but to no avail. 

He’s been held against his will for 11 days. Terlaje argued that it was done under the threat of prosecution and no proper advisement of his rights at the onset, a theme which has played out in the cases recently heard by Judge Iriarte.

At the crux of the issue, is his status as an essential worker compounded by who is responsible.

Terlaje says inaction by DPHSS in allowing him to be released and communicating that to the Department of Defense is the hang-up.

Superior Court Judge Elyze Iriarte questioned if the “act” was discretionary and what authority the court had in making such a ruling.

Government attorney Sandra Miller argued that Lang was never in GovGuam quarantine, so they have no say.

Although Public Health and DOD quarantining policies are similar, Miller explained that DOD guidelines are more strict. 

“Public Health did not place Lang in DOD custody, they let him go and that is an important point, they didn’t know he was DOD. To say that GovGuam is the one that forced Mr. Lang into military quarantine and his constitutional rights have been violated is just a dramatic misstatement.”

Earlier, Lang clarified for the government, what he meant by “fashion.” He told the court that in preparation for arriving to Guam as a returning resident, he looked into the protocols of traveler quarantine and at worst he expected to be quarantined in a GovGuam facility not stuck in a DOD facility footing a $3,000 hotel bill.

He was hopeful that if transferred to a GovGuam facility his designation as an essential worker would exempt him and allow him to quarantine at home with restricted travel, making money instead of losing it.

The government would later argue that should Lang be placed on home quarantine, it potentially would be on the ship Endeavor. Miller contended that the tight living quarters was not an environment conducive to social distancing.

The government cited the statistics on the COVID-19 public health crisis, pointing to the airport as ground zero. “All of the COVID here came originally on that airplane.”

Terlaje objected to this statement indicating there is no evidence presented by the government.

Terlaje asserted that the DOD was merely waiting for guidance from Public Health relative to his transfer and release. 

The court has no jurisdiction to interfere in the DOD quarantine, asserted the government. “It’s not the government’s place to second guess the DOD that gave a defense that this worker is not essential that they could wait for him to come back to work.”

After a full day of hearing the case, Judge Iriarte told the parties she needs time to mull it over.

“There was quite a bit of testimony in this case and there are exhibits that I still want to go through. I have to tell you that I have been diligently trying to address all the quarantine issues raised by all the COVID petitioners as quickly as I could. But I have to admit in this case I am not prepared this evening to issue a ruling,” she said.

She didn’t believe she would be able to come to a conclusion even with a 30-minute break.

Iriarte apologized to the parties for needing the additional time, stating she hopes to have a decision ready first thing Monday morning, September 21.

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Jolene Toves
Jolene joined the PNC team in 2017, as a producer, co-anchor and investigative reporter covering law enforcement, courts and crimes. Notable coverage includes the Ehlert case, the Mark Torre Jr. trial, the Allan Agababa trial, exclusive pieces on the Life of a Drug Dealer/Addict, and Life behind bars...the story of Honofre Chargualaf and Kevin Cruz. In 2019, she was promoted to Assistant News Director and Lead Anchor. From 2015 to 2017 she served as Public Relations and Promotions Manager, for the Hotel Nikko Guam handling local radio and advertorial promotions, as well as produced and directed tv commercials for the hotel. Prior to this she worked with KUAM for three years as a reporter and segment host. She began her journalism career in 2012, working with Glimpses of Guam contributing to the Guam Business Magazine, R&R magazine, MDM magazine and the Marianas Business Journal.