Northern Mariana Islands: legislative approval required for each new hiring in judiciary

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, like all parts of the U.S., has been hit hard with the fiscal crisis. According a recent bill introduced in the commonwealth’s legislature, the $3.3. million appropriation to the Judiciary in October 2010 is a 44% decline from peak funding ($5.9 million) in FY 1999.

Under the terms of Section 602(a) of that October 2010 appropriation (PL 17-21) also provides:

(a) As long as work hours and wages are reduced, no vacancies shall be filled except for critical and emergency positions; provided that until a law is passed defining critical and emergency positions, said critical and emergency positions must be approved by joint approval of the legislature.

(b) In order to reduce the size of the Government, except for the Public School System, the Northern Marianas College and health care professionals of the Department of Public Health and Environmental Services, any FTE (full-time equivalent) that becomes vacant shall be eliminated…

With no law as specified by 602(a) having been passed, the judiciary has had to make several requests already to the legislature for staffing:

  • HJR 17-07: 1 Law Clerk. Approved by House and Senate 10/21/11.
  • HJR 17-16: 2 Deputy Courtroom Clerks. Approved by House and Senate 1/28/11.
  • HJR 17-34 / SJR17-12: 1 Law Clerk, 1 Deputy Clerk (III). Approved by House and Senate 5/13/11.
  • HJR 17-38: 2 Law Clerks for the Supreme Court; 1 Secretary to the Presiding Judge; 1 Systems Administrator for the Judicial Administration Office; 1 Computer Specialist for the Judicial Administration Office. Approved by House 6/29/11.

A possible longer term solution has been introduced.  HJR 17-22 would be a general waiver of section 602(a) as it applies to the judicial branch and other specified agencies. That joint resolution is pending in the House Judiciary & Governmental Operations Committee.