Antonio M. Atalig and Reynaldo O. Yana have filed a joint motion asking the CNMI Supreme Court to stop an order issued by Superior Court associate judge David A. Wiseman that suspended them from practicing law in the local courts.
Atalig and Yana said they have no other means of livelihood and if their suspension from the practice of law is not stayed, a dire economic consequence could result.
If their motion for stay of Wiseman’s order is not granted, the suspended lawyers said Yana could become homeless, destitute, and even starve to death.
The respondents (Atalig and Yana) said Atalig has a wife and children whom he needs to support and that failure to support his children could have serious consequences.
The respondents said they have clients, who because of their limited financial resources, may not be able to find lawyers to represent them and the lack of legal representation could prejudice their cases.
The two said there is a likelihood that the denial of a grant of stay will cause irreparable injury to them.
Last May 16, Wiseman ordered the suspension of Atalig and Yana from practicing law in the CNMI for misconduct with regards to their refusal to return $1.1 million in attorneys’ fees that the two lawyers received from the Malite estate.
Wiseman ordered that the suspension is indefinite until Atalig and Yana have complied with some conditions.
The respondents said prosecuting attorney Thomas Clifford charged them for violating Model Rule of Professional Conduct Rule 1.15 (c) for failing to safeguard property in which various persons claimed an interest in the amount of $1,288,500.
The amount is the total of the contingent fees of $1,138,000 and the amount of $150,000, which the probate court awarded Atalig for work in the probate case.
Atalig and Yana said MRPC Rule 1.15 (c) does not apply in this case as at the time they received the award of attorney’s fees from the court, they were no longer representing any client with whom they had contingent fee agreements.
After the turnover of the Marianas Public Lands Authority payment of $3.4 5 million to the court, the heirs of Angel Malite found themselves another attorney in Steve Nutting.
“Thus, the award by the court of the sum of $1.138 million to the respondents based on the contingent fee agreements was no longer in the course of the respondents representation of the heirs of Angel Malite,” Atalig and Yana said.
The two said the job to separate disputed property belonged to the court, which had control and custody of the funds.
The respondents said they were also charged for violating MRPC 3.3(a) and (3) by alleging that were not candid or honest with the tribunal.
Atalig and Yana said Clifford alleged that they repeatedly refused to provide any reasonable or meaningful detailed statement regarding the disposition of the nearly $1.3 million in attorney’s fees.
Atalig and Yana said the charge of dishonesty and less candidness was the fact that they could not immediately submit their accounting because Judge Kenneth L. Govendo threw them in jail.
Atalig and Yana said in view of the fact that they were no longer representing a client at the time they were required to submit an accounting, MRPC Rules 3.3 (a) (3.3(a) and (3) do not apply in this case.
The respondents cited that Judge Wiseman argues that according to the newspaper report, Atalig said that he had some money left over from which he received in attorney fees awarded by the court.
Therefore, the respondent said, Wiseman concluded that Atalig was dishonest in stating that he did not have any money leftover.
“Since when has the court been allowed to use as evidence what he has read in the newspaper?” Atalig and Yana said, adding that no newspaper account has ever been admitted into evidence in this case and in the Malite estate probate.
Atalig, Yana ask Supreme Court to stop suspension order
Ferdie de la Torre
June 18, 2012