So, you’re Guam’s next elected attorney general
I have been a practicing lawyer since 1985. Since 1988, I have served as an assistant or deputy attorney general under four elected attorneys general in Alabama; two appointed attorneys general in the Federated States of Micronesia and the Northern Mariana Islands; five elected attorneys general in Guam, and one interim appointed attorney general in-between.
In Alabama, the elected first attorney general I served under was Don Siegelman, a Democrat, who went from being secretary of state to attorney general to lieutenant governor to governor to federal prison. Next was Jimmy Evans, the last of Alabama’s yellow dog democrats, who successfully prosecuted Alabama’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction, Guy Hunt, for raiding campaign funds to buy a riding lawnmower and pay his mortgage.
Jimmy also ran the office’s finances into the ground before Republican Jeff Sessions was elected to replace him. Sessions was the U.S. attorney from Mobile, whose nomination for a federal judgeship some years before had been scuttled in the Senate Judiciary Committee by Alabama’s long-time Democrat Howell Heflin amid accusations of race-based prosecutions.
By then, Republicans were the majority in Alabama, and Sessions was easily swept into office. Sessions served only half his term as attorney general before running for U.S. Senate as soon as Howell Heflin announced he was retiring. Not only did Sessions win, he took Heflin’s seat on the same Judiciary Committee that had blocked him from becoming a federal judge.
Years later, Sessions become one of Donald Trump’s earliest and most vocal supporters in his first campaign for president, for which Sessions was rewarded by an appointment to be U.S. Attorney General for the whole country, a job he had long coveted, and from which he was compelled to resign, for not doing as he was told and remain in charge of an investigation in which he was a potential witness (a badge of honor in my book).
The last Alabama attorney general I served under was Bill Pryor, appointed by a Republican governor to fill the remainder of Sessions’ term and then also easily elected to the office on his own merit. George W. Bush later appointed him to serve as a judge on the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, where he is now its chief judge.
Congress authorized the Guam Legislature to choose whether Guam’s attorney general should continue to be an appointed position answerable to the governor, or elected, servant only to the People (with a capital “p”) and the Rule of Law. And Guam’s attorney general became a non-partisan elected office whose candidates “shall declare no political party affiliation.”
Guam’s first elected attorney general was Doug Moylan; then came Alicia Limtiaco, who left office six months before the end of her term to accept a federal appointment to serve as U.S. Attorney for Guam and the CNMI.
John Weisenberger held an interim appointment until the next election when Lenny Rapadas, Alicia’s predecessor at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, became Guam’s third elected attorney general. Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson, a former appointed attorney general, two-term senator in the 23rd and 24th Guam Legislatures, advocate to Congress for an elected attorney general, and retired superior court judge, was elected Guam’s fourth elected attorney general.
And today, Leevin Camacho is Guam’s fifth elected attorney general. I’ve served under them all.
The attorney general is “chief legal counsel” to the government’s departments, boards, agencies and commissions. Its lawyers and staff are responsible for prosecuting crimes from traffic violations to child abuse, rape, and murder; providing services to victims of crimes; child support enforcement; and consumer protection.
Another division is responsible for juvenile justice and works to keep families together. Lawyers in the Solicitors Division review contracts for form and legality; advise agencies in all procurements for goods and services anticipated to cost over $500,000 over the life of the procurement; appear on behalf of the government before the Civil Service Commission and the Office of Public Accountability; and advise elected and appointed officials and employees on the law, especially how to keep from getting sued.
Lawyers in the Litigation Division defend government officials and civilly prosecute wrongdoers in Guam and the federal courts. And if a Guam law appears to be unconstitutional, the attorney general is authorized to ask the courts to declare if it is.
This November, Guam voters will choose between their first and fifth elected attorneys general, Doug Moylan and Leevin Camacho, and write-in candidate, former assistant attorney general Pete Santos. This race matters.
To whoever is elected, a word of advice: Don’t let anyone call you “general.” (Really. It’s an adjective, not a military title.) Constantly advocate for the resources the lawyers and staff need to be effective; give them all of the credit; take all of the blame. (The voters will anyway.) It does not matter if you personally believe a law is good policy, so long as there are good faith legal arguments to be made, you are duty bound to make them, or step aside if you cannot.
Your mandate is to protect the public, especially those who cannot defend themselves; to prosecute without consideration for the political consequences; to defend the government when it is right and to confess error when it is wrong; to pursue victory not for its own sake, but to seek that justice is done.
That is the Rule of Law. Follow it.
Rob Weinberg is an assistant attorney general for the government of Guam. The views expressed here are entirely his own. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.