Guam – The Guam Ancestral Lands Commission [GALC] and the Attorney General’s Office are sharply divided over a settlement offer that Land Management Director Monte Mafnas has proposed in a 6 year old GovGuam lawsuit against the Estate of Jose Martinez Torres.
$19 million dollars is at stake. And the debate over the settlement offer Wednesday afternoon often broke into a shouting match between Mafnas and Assistant AG Bill Bischoff.
At issue is a November 1st letter drawn up by the Land Management Director proposing that GovGuam settle for a $1.5 million payment from the Torres Estate.
The case involves the Estate’s 2007 sale of 250 acres of land in Dededo to Younex for $19 million dollars.
The AG’s lawsuit, brought on behalf of GALC, contends that the Estate had no right to sell the land which should have been recognized as belonging to GovGuam. But there is no getting the land back now, so it is the money from the sale that GovGuam seeks, funds that could be used to compensate hundreds of former land owners who have no chance of recovering land lost in Federal condemnations.
$6 million of the $19 million has already been spent but GovGuam has gotten a restraining order on the remaining $13 million which Bischoff argues, GovGuam has a good chance of getting. That’s why he believes a $1.5 million dollar settlement is a bad idea.
In addition, Bishoff argues that the Torres claim falls outside the bounds of GALC’s authority because it dates back to 1915. By law, GALC is limited to dealing with condemnations that have occurred since 1930. So it would be illegal to settle with the Estate.
He advised the Commissioners to let the current lawsuit run its course saying it is likely that GovGuam will prevail, and GALC could reap as much as $19 million, instead of having to settle for $1.5 million.
Mafanas said he believes that a bird in the hand is better than 2 in the bush. Getting $1.5 million in badly need funds now will allow the GALC to get on with the task of surveying and recording 146 parcels of land for the benefit of the trust members it serves.
At least 4 GALC Commissioners signed Mafanas’ proposed settlement offer, but other commissioners questioned the settlement offer citing, among other reasons, the compensation that the Torres estate has already received.
No decision was reached on the proposed settlement during the Wednesday meeting.
The consensus seemed to be that representatives of the Torres Estate would hear of GALC’s interest in making a deal through the media, and they will wait for them to make an offer to GALC, if they feel so inclined.