The U.S. Justice Department has announced a settlement in their racial discrimination lawsuit against the Chamorro Land Trust Commission. The Leon Guerrero Administration praised the settlement calling it a good day for Guam.
But it’s not really final yet.
The settlement requires Guam lawmakers to amend the Chamorro Land Trust Act to eliminate references to “native Chamorro” in the Land Trust Act.
The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against GovGuam in 2017 alleging that the CLTC violated the Fair Housing Act through its program of granting 99-year residential leases for one-acre tracts, at a cost of one dollar per year, solely to “native Chamorros.”
The CLTC has maintained that the Justice Department’s allegations are false and that the eligibility criteria for becoming a land trust beneficiary did not discriminate based on race, color, or national origin.
However, negotiations between the CLTC and the Justice Department resulted in a compromise agreement last year.
Under the terms of the compromise, the Chamorro Land Trust Act must be amended to eliminate the words native Chamorro and revised to permit lease awards based on whether individuals lost land or lost the use of their land during World War II and its aftermath.
The CLTC Board unanimously agreed to adopt the terms of the settlement on Nov. 14. The draft settlement terms were presented to the Legislature for their approval on December 26.
Now, nearly six months later, the Chamorro Land Trust Act is unchanged.
Governor Leon Guerrero’s Chief Policy Advisor Carlo Branch said it’s a conditional settlement. “It gives the parties involved … one year to make the needed changes to statute.”
The agreement was brokered between the Department of Justice, the CLTC, the Guam Attorney General’s office, and the Office of the Governor, said Branch. It was signed today, Friday, June 5.
“We will have one year from today to comply with the conditions of the settlement,” said Branch. “We are every bit confident that we will.”
But Guam lawmakers must comply with the agreement by voting to change the wording in the Chamorro Land Trust Act.
“Each of the parties has a certain level of responsibility. But relative to altering the code to make it consistent with those arraignments yes, the Legislature must and should act.”
Statement from CLTC attorney Mike Phillips
Attorney Mike Phillips, who represents the Chamorro Land Trust Commission, issued a statement that reads in part:
“The final agreement remained in the negotiation state until at least March, 2020. The CLTC did not officially sign off on the Agreement until May 28, 2020. We then forwarded the Agreement to the Attorney General of Guam on May 29th. The Governor maintained the discretion not to sign off as she is the Governor of Guam.”
“Similarly, because the Agreement requires a change in law all parties recognized during the negotiations that this remains within the discretion of the Guam Legislature.”
“The Guam Legislature was never included in the negotiations and was not a party to the lawsuit. The Chamorro Land Trust Commission is hopeful that now that the Agreement is final, the Guam Legislature will review it and also support the final agreement. ”
Senator Therese Terlaje has oversight over the Chamorro Land Trust Commission.
The CLTC’s December request for the changes required under the terms of the settlement agreement rest with her.
READ the statement from Senator Terlaje in FULL below:
In a statement to the media this afternoon, Sen. Terlaje said –
“In late December, we received the Resolution from CLTC with the initial term sheet of an agreement. My Committee held an oversight hearing on January 9th and was advised that the settlement agreement was still pending.”
“I corresponded with Assistant AG Canto, Attorney Phillips, and the CLTC Chair after the hearing regarding draft legislation, and it is my understanding that settlement discussions with DOJ continued even through the pandemic. Although the Legislature was not present at the conferences, the agreement was finally adopted by CLTC in late May.”
“Today’s filed agreement indicates the AG and Governor have also signed on. Of course, the committee will do its due diligence to consider the proposed amendments to statute outlined in the final agreement.”
READ the statement from attorney Mike Phillips in FULL below:
READ the statement from the Governor’s Office on the DOJ settlement announcement in FULL below:
Statement on Motion to Dismiss CLTC Lawsuit
Hagåtña, Guam – The following is in response to the US Department of Justice’s (USDOJ) motion to dismiss filed earlier today with the federal courts regarding the Chamorro Land Trust Commission (CLTC).
“Earlier today the US Department of Justice filed a motion to dismiss its federal court action against the Chamorro Land Trust Commission. This is a result of months-long settlement discussions between USDOJ, the CLTC, the Attorney General, and the Office of the Governor. With minor modifications to Guam’s CLTC law, thousands of present recipients can maintain use of their leases for the betterment of themselves and their families. We are thankful for this outcome and proud that we were able to save this program for our people. This is a good day for Guam.”
The needed changes to existing law have been previously communicated to the Chairwoman on the Committee on Health, Tourism, Historic Preservation, Land and Justice.