By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
More than 400 government of Guam retirees, who won a class suit to collect the cost of living allowance owed to them since 1993, have yet to receive the payments awarded by the court in 2006.
A new piece of legislation was filed today to compel GovGuam to settle its decades-old bill.
Sen. Jesse Lujan introduced a bill "reaffirming" the government’s pledge stipulated in Public Law 29-18, which authorized the issuance of certificates of claims for the $92 million COLA settlement of the court's judgment in Rios v. Camacho, dubbed "Lola COLA."
“I was shocked when presented the evidence showing over 400 retirees and their attorney have still not received even one penny owed to them from their COLA certificates," said Lujan, author of P.L. 29-18.
"Plenty are dead but their heirs have the right to claim. A lot of certificates were not issued. And (the Department of Administration) says the records were old enough to be destroyed. However. I have a listing of retirees who have not been paid, acquired through the GovGuam Retirement Fund," he added.
Lujan's Bill 115-37. titled "COLA Relief Act," would "reinforce" the COLA certificate law and "assist" COLA claimants and their heirs in obtaining the benefits owed by the government for three decades.
The bill, however, does not provide for a funding source to pay the claims.
The COLA settlement was supposed to be funded with proceeds from the $240 million bond issued by the Camacho administration in 2009.
Prior to the bonds sale, the legislature assigned a $10 million promissory note issued by TeleGuam Holdings from the GTA sale to cover a portion of the judgment award.
"The retirees were forced to file three separate lawsuits to obtain their COLA certificates," Lujan said. "Yet, even after the government again lost in court, it found questionable methods to avoid payment to COLA certificate holders. I intend to end this long-fought battle, immediately."
Lujan first introduced the COLA certificate law to remedy a previous administration’s refusal to pay the retirees and their attorney, Michael Phillips, after the court's 2006 decision on the class action filed in 1993.
The class, led by Candelaria Rios and Gloria B. Nelson, sought a $123 million judgment, which the government eventually negotiated down to $92 million.
Under P.L. 29-18, the government was duty-bound to issue certificates of claims to the retirees within 30 days after the law's enactment.
The law, signed on Sept 25, 2007, states that "Any person who willfully fails to perform a ministerial duty to prepare or issue certificates of claim in a timely manner as directed herein, shall be personally liable for the reasonable attorney's fees and costs incurred by claimants to legally compel performance."
According to a 2009 document from the Office of the Attorney General, the government began issuing payments in August 2007 but ceased the process in July 2009.
"Even after obtaining bond money earmarked to pay the 2006 judgment, the government failed to fully compensate the retirees," Lujan said.
"Now, almost 30 years after the initial lawsuit was filed and the death of at least 90 percent of the COLA class, the government continues to maintain its air of hostility toward the COLA class and class attorney by refusing to pay and honor the validity of the outstanding certificates of claims by recipients and holders of these certificates of claim, and to take the steps necessary to notify all unpaid retirees or their heirs," Bill 115-37 states.
Lujan said his bill would "end continuing challenges to the statute."